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Unit 2: How Trade and Travel Changed the World

Lesson G: Avenues of Change in Africa

Activity 2: Timbuktu, Africa's First Islamic Capital

Timbuktu (in present day Mali) has been a city of cultural diversity in West Africa for over a thousand years. During the Mali and Songhai Empires of the period 1300-1550, the city served as a destination for salt and gold traders on the trans-Saharan trade network, as well as for Muslim scholars and students.

The story of Timbuktu reflects the origins and cultural/political impacts of Islam on many other urban centers of Africa. Many believe Timbuktu's thriving economy, culture, and support for education made it the early Islamic capital of Africa.

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Historical Investigation — Africa's Islamic Capital

Directions: For this activity, open the student resource titled "Historical Investigation — Africa's Islamic Capital." Use the documents to determine if Timbuktu deserves the title of the Islamic capital of Africa.

  1. Download Student Resource: Historical Investigation — Africa's Islamic Capital (doc).
  2. Select the link to review the how to complete a Historical Investigation.
  3. Submit your answers to the completed historical investigation to your teacher as instructed.


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The rise of Timbuktu in the Mali and Songhai Empires reflects the impact of travel and trade on the spread and power of Islam in Africa. Africans on the coasts of West Africa also experienced the political, cultural, and economic benefits of this exchange.

The role of contact in Timbuktu along the trans-Saharan trade network was similar to the influence of European trade for Africans along the coastal kingdoms of West Africa. In the next activity you will learn about the impacts of increased contact and trade with Europeans along the African coast.