History Resource Cupboard – lessons and resources for schools

History Resource Cupboard - lessons and resources for schools

How and why was Africa ‘invented’ in the 19th century?

This enquiry is a really great way to end a unit on the study of Africa.

If you studied the other enquiries in this unit, your students will bring to the lesson a wealth of knowledge about the diversity of African history, people and cultures. They will realise straight away how problematic the ideas expressed by 19th-century writers were.

The enquiry opens with a stark indication of the changing attitudes towards Africa: whilst the Catalan Atlas of 1375 presented Mansa Musa as wealthy and sophisticated, the 1858 depiction shows Africans as tribal and barbaric.

Students are tasked with working out how, when and why attitudes changed so much, working from the argument of historian Valentin-Yves Mudimbe that the 19th century was the big turning point.

Having completed a card-sort based on the study of extracts from travel writings, students then work out when exactly attitudes began to change: when did people begin to see Africans as genetically inferior? Then, students consider why this shift might have happened, using the context of the time to suggest possible explanations of their own.

Finally, students answer the big question, using tentative language to help them produce sophisticated and detailed responses. 

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  • Lesson presentation: PowerPoint
  • Lesson write-up: PDF
  • Resource 1: PDF
  • Resource 2:PDF
  • Worksheet 1: PDF

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