“Caravans of Gold” offers rich opportunities for education

The Block Museum of Art is thrilled to partner with Northwestern’s Program of African Studies (PAS) on the exhibition Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time.  A particular focus of the partnership has been the creation of an education program to accompany the curriculum. Amy Settergren, Outreach Coordinator of the Program of African Studies discusses the planning:

Last fall PAS’s K–12 outreach program focused on providing teachers and students with materials related to the Block Museum’s upcoming Caravans of Gold exhibit. Working in close partnership with the museum, PAS connected with teachers in Chicago, Evanston, and other regional school districts who are eager to teach about medieval Saharan Africa and bring their students to the museum. The content-rich exhibit includes many archaeological fragments from Morocco, Mali, and Nigeria, presenting a complex teaching opportunity. PAS and the Block have developed loanable cultural kits and web-based resources so that teachers can provide extensive context before and during student field trips.

In October, PAS hosted a workshop to equip teachers to use the exhibition as an educational resource. With a nod to Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” the exhibition was framed in terms of “single story” stereotypes about Africa: as isolated, without history, encountered only through the teaching of Atlantic slavery. Caravans provides an opportunity to present multiple complex stories of the African past, especially the centrality of Saharan trade to the medieval global world. At the workshop, curator Kathleen Bickford Berzock reinforced this theme by presenting an overview of the objects that are on display and the far-reaching networks of exchange that carried goods, ideas, and people across vast distances. Particularly resonant for teachers was a case study that connects 13th-century Nigeria and France by juxtaposing two relics: a seated figure from Ile-Ife cast in copper mined in the Alps, and a Madonna and Child carved from West African ivory.

Other speakers were Ralph Austen, professor emeritus of history at the University of Chicago, who gave a presentation on the region’s political-economic history, and Galya Ben-Arieh (political science), who offered a contemporary perspective by discussing current political contexts, economic development, and forced migration. The ensuing discussions showed how artifacts in the exhibition can illuminate stories about value and exchange, the migration of people and ideas, and what we can know about the past. With this background, students in K–12 classrooms can visualize why this history is important.

The Block Museum will offer free K-12 classroom tours throughout the run of the exhibition. Visit Group Tours and Class Trips for more information.

Originally published in the Program of African Studies Newsletter – January 2019

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