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Did Benin’s Oba rule like Mali’s Mansa?

This enquiry, inspired by Toby Green’s brilliant work to bring African history into UK schools, has a particular history and a particular purpose.

Its purpose is to address the flattened, racialised and uncomplicated view far too many students (and teachers) have of the continent of Africa. This myopic view of the past is not a personal failing, but a product of our colonial history that needs undoing. Representative history means that the first Africans from the past that students enquire about should not enslaved.

But more than this, the enquiry question explicitly seeks to pose the question of similarity and difference for a purpose. It seeks to complexify students’ appreciation of ‘Africa’. For all Year 8s, ‘Africa’ needs to become not only ‘a continent not a country’, but a complex continent at that.

Finally the enquiry seeks to explore the varied traces of the past left behind by previous societies and, in particular, get students appreciate the value of art (and non-European art at that) to the historian.

The history of this enquiry is also worth noting before using. It was planned for a department of non specialists who were keen, if not necessarily well versed in the history of either Benin or Mali. As such it is far more prescriptive and less imaginative than enquiries should, in my view, be.

Introducing the Enquiry Question

An opportunity to not only introduce the focus of the enquiry – on methods of rule and control – but to tease out assumptions about the past – and create a sense of felt difficulty for students.

Students arrive at any enquiry with assumptions that need teasing out. To do so requires strong management of classroom talk but a safe space for students to bring out their ideas and misconceptions. Ensuring students write their name underneath is important for accountability, but crucially these will be returned to at the end of the enquiry as a moment of real importance (see below).

Finally, students are ready to begin their study of the two Kingdoms.

Additional Debate Lesson