This unit is apt for history classes, English classes, and specialized history classes like African-American History, the class for which it is specifically intended. My school is in downtown New Haven, CT, and is approximately comprised of 50% students who identify as African-American, 40% Latinx or Hispanic, 10% white or Asian-American/Pacific Islander.
Student experience with maps will likely vary from none to little, if estimating from my own experience as a teacher. An introduction to maps and map-making will lead into the strategic overviews of the Scramble for Africa. Students in my African-American Studies class will have already covered early African history and the Atlantic Slave Trade, as well as the American Civil War, placing them historically just in time for the late-1800s European scramble to colonize the continent. Opening with a series of maps of Africa and the Congo and creating some maps of our own (details in the “Classroom Activities” section below), we will then journey down the Congo River with Joseph Conrad in his controversial novel Heart of Darkness, as well as scrutinize the aforementioned literary critique of that work. Hopefully, throughout, we will be able to begin visualizing Africa as a continent full of different countries, differing histories, periods of both struggle and success. I want to encourage my students to strive to dig deeper into learning more about life in other parts of the world, thereby allowing the continent to exist more vividly in their imaginations. I’d like my students to “get to know” parts of Africa so they might empathize appropriately with other world citizens.
For varying perspectives and more sophisticated understandings, it is important to intermingle various media, hence the fundamental understandings and use of maps along with literary critique.