3. Comparing African histories

Timelines can help us compare the similarities and differences in a series of events for different people, or different groups, or different countries.

For example, if your pupils drew timelines for themselves, there would be some events the same (starting school) and others different (birth of baby brother or sister for example).

Using timelines to compare the history of a variety of African countries during the time of moving to independence can help your pupils see common themes but also differences between their experiences.

Case Study 3: Examining the passage of different African countries to independence

Mrs Banda organised her class to work in groups to make a comparative multiple timeline that helped them to learn about the experiences of their own and other countries’ journey towards independence.

For each country that she chose she made a long strip of paper (she did this by sticking A4 pieces of paper together, one piece equalling five years). See Resource 4: African timelines template.

This would enable the groups, when finished, to place one under another to allow for easy comparison.

With her own books, and books and other materials borrowed from a colleague in a secondary school, the groups carried out their own guided research to find out the major events for each chosen country and then wrote each event in at the correct time on the chart. (For younger classes you could provide the events and dates yourself to help them construct the timeline.) Resource 5: Key events in the move to independence provides examples of some key dates and also suggests websites where further information can be found if necessary.

Mrs Banda made the timeline for ‘World events’ as an example (World War II, independence for India, first flight in space, the Cold War, Vietnam War, the invention of the Internet, Invasion of Iraq etc.).

She made sure that each ‘country’ wrote ‘Independence’ in the appropriate time spot in another colour.

When all the groups had finished, she asked them to line up their timelines one under the other neatly. This enabled easy comparison between the countries.

Key Activity: Comparing the African experience

  • Follow the activity carried out in Case Study 3.
  • When the timelines have been completed, let each group introduce their country and talk through their timeline.
  • Prepare a series of questions for the class to answer, for example:
    • What are the major events on the timelines?
    • What similarities can you see between the experiences of different African countries?
    • What are the major differences?
    • Which countries were the first to gain independence and which were the last?
    • Which countries have suffered most from internal wars since independence?
    • What major events are soon to happen (e.g. South Africa hosting the World Cup in 2012)?
  • (This sort of work can easily be extended. Groups can carry on researching their designated countries to find out more about them: languages spoken; major industries; agriculture; cities and towns etc. They could draw maps of their countries and label them. There are many possibilities.)

2. Introducing the concept of chronology

Resource 1: Some important historical events since independence