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A History of World Societies, Sixth Edition
Web Exercises
Chapter 10: African Societies and Kingdoms, ca 400-1450

The African subcontinent, the land south of the Sahara, developed in relative isolation from the Mediterranean world, India, and China until roughly A.D. 1000. Thus, a unique set of cultures, traditions, languages, and identities emerged. The following activities will help you explore these aspects of African history. They also look at the impact of other cultures in Africa as the continent became more involved in the trans–Eurasian trade routes that you explored in previous chapters.

Helpful Hints:
  • You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore different sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and questions detailed in each activity.
  • On many web sites you can increase the size of the images by clicking on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine fine details in photographs.
Activity One:
  • To better understand African history, you need a firm grasp of the geography of the continent. Click on Map 1 and review Map 10.1 on page 280 of McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition).  In addition, go to map 2 and then click on Africa.  You can examine the physical features of Africa more closely by clicking on each zone depicted in the smaller map at the top of the page,
  • Try to identify the various climate zones of Africa. You should be familiar with Africa's deserts, rain forests, sahel, savanna, and subtropical regions. Print out  map 3 and use it to try to trace these areas. When you have completed this task, identify other major geographical features such as the Niger River, the Nile River, the Congo River, the Zambezi River, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, Lake Chad, Lake Victoria, and various mountainous areas of Africa.
  • Explain why the African subcontinent was relatively isolated from events in Eurasia for so long. Where do you think it was easiest for the cultures of the subcontinent and Eurasia to interact?
  • Review this chapter and make a list of all the African cultures and civilizations (kingdoms or cities) that emerged around or after A.D. 1000. Locate these cultures on your map. McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition), claims that "what spurred the expansion of these small kingdoms into formidable powers controlling sizable territory was the development of long–distance trade" (page 285). Where did long–distance trade emerge? With which cultures did this trade bring sub–Saharan Africa into contact?
Activity Two:
  • One of the early Neolithic cultures to appear in Africa was the Nok. First, read The Nok.  Next, examine map 4 and read Nok Terracottas (make sure to click to the second page of this brief discussion).  Who were the Nok? Where did they reside? How do we know about them? How are we limited in our knowledge of them? What historical controversy surrounds them? How did they influence African history?
  • Another Neolithic culture influential in African history was the Bantu. Go to The Iron Age South of the Sahara. When you have finished, read more about Bantu  skills and tools.  Also review pages 284–285 in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition). Who were the Bantu? Where did they reside? How do we know about them? How are we limited in our knowledge of them? How did they influence African history?
Activity Three:
  • The Bantu migrations, with their expansion of technology, agricultural products, and knowledge, ultimately led to the first urban societies in sub–Saharan Africa. To explore an example of this development, go to Jenne–jeno: An Ancient African City. What does this site reveal about the level of social development in West Africa before the year 1000?
  • What do the authors of this site mean when they say that "the results indicated that earlier assumptions about the emergence of complex social organization in urban settlements and the development of long–distance trade as innovations appearing only after the arrival of the Arabs in North Africa in the seventh and eighth centuries were incorrect"? Why do you think that historians have assumed that urban societies did not exist in sub–Saharan Africa before 1000? You might want to review pages 283–284 in McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition).
Activity Four:
  • Around A.D. 1000, long–distance trade began to have a tremendous impact on Africa. At Trade in Ancient Africa, there is a map of trade routes in West Africa and an explanation of what goods and peoples were involved in this commerce.
  • Read The Saharan Trade and The Swahili Kingdoms. What goods did societies in Africa export to the rest of the world? With which civilizations did this export trade bring African societies into contact? How did these commercial connections affect developments within Africa after A.D. 1000? In other words, did any foreign religions spread in Africa? Did any African civilizations adapt any political techniques from their neighbors? Was there any immigration or emigration?
Activity Five: Activity Six:
  • The advent of Islam in Africa led to more than just greater economic ties. It also led to greater cultural ties. Many non–African Muslims traveled extensively in East and West Africa. You have already met one of these travelers, Ibn Battuta, in the Chapter 9 Internet activities. There were numerous others. Read the following accounts of two travelers' encounters with Africa: Leo Africanus: Description of Timbuktu and Abű Űthmân al–Jâhiz: From The Essays, c. 860 CE,
  • How do these Muslim observers describe Africa? In what do they seem most interested? For whom are they writing? (Are they writing for other sub–Saharan Africans or for people of their own cultures?) What impression of sub–Saharan Africa do their essays convey?
  • Muslim scholars helped spread the knowledge of Africa to other places as well. For example, their maps began to include more of sub–Saharan Africa after the year 1000. See al–Idrisi's World Map from 1456 and Ibn Sa'id's world map from the Kitab al–bad' wa–al–ta'rikh, 13th century. You might find the orientation of these maps confusing. The first looks upside down; the second is sideways. You may have to print them out and manipulate them to understand them better. How did these Muslim cartographers depict Africa? Is it large or small? Do the maps include all of Africa or just areas where Islam was present?
  • Examine this medieval map of Africa, which is drawn from a European perspective. How does it compare to the two Muslim depictions? How did Europeans learn about Africa at this time?
Activity Seven:
  • Islam was not the only religion to influence sub–Saharan Africa. Christianity also penetrated the Sahara. To understand more on the Christian influence, go to Axum and Ethiopia: African, Christian, & Muslim—A Multi–Heritage Kingdom. Where did Christianity have a strong impact? What nation is there today? Was Christianity's influence the same there as Islam's was in other parts of Africa? In other words, did the spread of Christianity link Axum/Ethiopia to a broader civilization? Was Christianity there the same as in Europe? (See McKay, Chapter 8, "The Making of Europe.") To help you answer these questions, see Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church and Christians in Ethiopia.
Activity Eight:
  • One other great kingdom flourished in sub–Saharan Africa before 1450. Review The Riddle of Great Zimbabwe and Great Zimbabwe. (When you visit the latter site, make sure to click on the images to examine them more closely.) How was this kingdom influenced by long–distance trade? Why is our knowledge of it not as extensive as that of Ghana, Mali, the Swahili city–states, and Axum/Ethiopia?
Activity Nine:
  • This sweeping chapter has introduced you to major developments in African history before 1500. To help you make better sense of the information, make a time line that covers major trends from the emergence of the Nok culture through 1450. For assistance, see Africa South of the Sahara Chronology. Keep this document handy, as Africa and its contact with the rest of the world will be a major theme throughout this course.