Section 3

Using different forms of evidence in history


Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will have:
  • used pictorial maps to help pupils see the importance of the natural environment in human settlement patterns (see also Module 1, Section 2);
  • used small-group investigations, including fieldwork, to develop pupils’ understanding of early African societies.

In addition to looking at oral and written evidence, your pupils can also learn about the past from other sources, for example maps. In this section, you will structure lessons and activities that will help pupils understand the factors that led to the emergence of strong African kingdoms in the past. It provides you with insight into the kinds of evidence and resources you can use. It covers:
  • using maps and other documents to examine factors in the natural environment that influenced the nature of the settlement and the kingdom;
  • exploring the role of pastoral and agricultural practices in shaping African lifestyles and culture;
  • exposing pupils to the material evidence that remains in and around settlements, which will help them examine how the past is reconstructed.

Page 1

By looking at the local environment and the physical layout of the land, it is possible to think about why a community settled in a certain place. Great Zimbabwe provides a good example. It is important that as a social studies teacher you understand a case like this, as it gives you the skills to relate these ideas to a number of different ancient African kingdoms and to your local setting. Using fieldwork, such as actual trips to a site, allows pupils to see for themselves why one place was chosen for settlement and why some developments survived longer than others. Most settlements are where they are because the environment provides some kind of resource, such as water or trees, and/or the site provides protection from the elements and, in earlier times, from enemies. Villages and towns are often found near a stream or wood to provide water and wood for shelter and to burn for heat and cooking. By looking closely at your school’s local environment or your pupils’ home environment, whichever is easier, you can help them to begin to understand how settlements developed. Maps from earlier times will show how a site has changed over time (this can build on the time walk activity from Module 2, Section 1).

Case Study 1: Investigating heritage sites

Ms Sekai Chiwamdamira teaches a Grade 6 class at a primary school in Musvingo in Zimbabwe. Her school is near the heritage site of Great Zimbabwe. She knows that many of her pupils pass by this magnificent site of stone-walled enclosures on their way to school. But she wonders whether they know why it is there. Sekai wants to help her pupils realise that the landscape and its natural resources played an important part in people’s decision to settle in Great Zimbabwe. She begins her lesson by explaining how Great Zimbabwe was a powerful African kingdom that existed between 1300 and 1450 (see Resource 1: Great Zimbabwe). She asks the pupils to consider why the rulers of this kingdom chose to settle in the Zimbabwe Plateau rather than anywhere else in Africa. A map is her key resource for this discussion (see Resource 2: Pictorial map of Great Zimbabwe). One by one, she points out the presence of gold, ivory, tsetse fly, water supply and access to trade routes on the map; she asks her pupils to suggest how each of these led people to establish the settlement where they did. As her pupils suggest answers, Sekai draws a mind map on the board (see Key Resource: Using mind maps and brainstorming to explore ideas). Sekai is pleased at the level of discussion and thinking that has taken place.

Activity 1: Using a map to gain information about Great Zimbabwe

Before the lesson, copy the map and questions from Resource 2 onto the chalkboard or have copies ready for each group.
  • First, explain what a key represents on a map. Then divide the class into groups and ask each group to analyse the key relating to the map of Great Zimbabwe. Agree what each item on the key represents.
  • Ask your pupils why they think the people first settled here. You could use the questions in Resource 2 to help them start their discussion.
  • As they work, go around the groups and support where necessary by asking helpful questions.
  • After 15 minutes, ask each group to list their ideas.
  • Next, ask them to rank their ideas in order of importance.
  • Write down their ideas on the chalkboard.
  • Finally, ask pupils to vote on which they think are the three most important factors.
  • With younger children, you could look at local features and ask them to think why people settled here.

Page 2

In the past, cattle were always viewed as an important resource, and many farmers and communities still view cattle this way. The purpose of Activity 2 is for pupils to investigate the traditional role of cattle in African societies using the local community as a source of information. They will then determine how much African farming societies have changed. Case Study 2 and Activity 2 use mind mapping and a template to help pupils think about the task as they work together in groups to share ideas.

Case Study 2: Farming in Birnin Kebbi

There are many farmers living in the Birnin Kebbi area and many of the pupils in the school are children of farmers. Bilkisu wants to investigate with her class how important cattle were to the lifestyle and culture of the early African farmers who settled in Nigeria. She also wants her pupils to think about the extent to which African farming societies have changed. She plans to use the local community as a resource of information. Bilkisu begins her lesson by explaining the important role of cattle in early African societies. She draws a mind map on the chalkboard that highlights the importance of cattle, and what cattle were used for. (See Key Resource: Using mind maps and brainstorming to explore ideas and Resource 3: A mind map about keeping cattle to help you question your pupils.) The class discuss these ideas. In the next lesson, in small groups with a responsible adult, the pupils go out to interview local farmers. Bilkisu has talked with them beforehand to see who is willing to talk with her pupils. The pupils had two simple questions to ask local farmers:
  1. Why are cattle important to you?
  2. What are the main uses of cattle?
Back in class, they share their findings and Bilkisu lists their answers on the chalkboard. They discuss what has changed over the years.

Activity 2: Farming old and new

Before the lesson, read Resource 4: Cattle in traditional life – the Fulani
  • Explain to pupils why cattle were important to the people who live in northern Nigeria.
  • Ask them, in groups, to list reasons why people used to keep cattle.
  • For homework, ask them to find out from older members of the community how keeping cattle has changed.
  • In the next lesson, ask the groups to copy and then fill out the template in Resource 5: The role of cattle – past and present to record their ideas.
  • Share each group’s answers with the whole class and display the templates on the wall for several days so pupils can revisit the ideas.

Page 3

One way to reconstruct how societies in the past lived is to analyse buildings, artefacts, sculptures and symbols found on sites from a long time ago. In this part, pupils go on a field trip to a place of historical interest. If this is not realistic for your class, it is possible to do a similar kind of task in the classroom by using a range of documents, photographs and artefacts. Pupils can start to understand how to investigate these and fill in some of the gaps for themselves about what used to happen.

Case Study 3: Organising a field trip

Aisha has already explored with her Primary 5 pupils that Sokoto Caliphate was a powerful political empire with a strong ruler. Now she wants them to think about how we know this. As her school is near Sokoto, she organises a field trip. She wants the pupils to explore the buildings and artefacts, and think about how historians used this evidence to construct the empire’s history. At the site, the pupils take notes about what the buildings look like. They also describe and draw some of the artefacts and symbols that can be found in and around each of these buildings. Back at school, they discuss all the things they saw and list these on the chalkboard. Aisha asks them to organise their findings under headings for the different types of building they have seen. The pupils then discuss what they think the different buildings were used for, based on what they looked like and the artefacts and sculptures that were found there. Aisha helps fill in the gaps by explaining aspects of Fulani culture and the meaning of some of the sculptures and artefacts. The ideas are displayed and other classes are invited to see the work. See Key resource: Using the local community/environment as a resource.

Key Activity: Exploring local history

Before you start this activity, gather together as much information as you can about the local community as it used to be. You may have newspaper articles, notes of talks with older members of the community, names of people who would be happy to talk to your pupils.
  • Organise your class into groups. Explain that they are going to find out about the history of the village using a range of resources. Each group could focus on one small aspect, for example the local shop, or church, or school.
  • Look at the resources you have, if any, before going to talk to people.
  • Give the groups time to prepare their questions and then arrange a day for them to go out to ask about their area.
  • On return to school, each group decides how to present their findings to the class.
  • Share the findings.
  • You could make their work into a book about the history of your local area.

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