In Medieval West Africa as well as in other parts of the world at various times, there arose a type of trade that required no party involved in the trade to speak. Early west African kingdoms in Mali and Ghana were fertile grounds for the establishments of trade routes. It was here that gold was famously traded for salt on a pound for pound basis.
Centers for trade quickly arose in many villages and cities sprang up along river coridoors between the desert and the mineral and agricultural wealth of sub Saharan Africa. A form of silent trade between merchants from West Africa, the Mediterranean, Arabia, and beyond famously took place in the ancient city of Timbuktu.
For my first embedded Minecraft unit with my students I created a world where student “traders” interact with non-player characters (NPCs) and other students in an attempt to earn the most valuable stockpile of trade goods to take back to their empires. For most of my grade 7 students this was their first adventure with Minecraft.
The California History-Social Science Standards I’m addressing asks students to study the relationship of the Niger River environment to trade in commodities such as gold, salt, and food as well as to the economic growth of West African empires during the Medieval period. I have ask three students with advanced Minecraft skills to help me design and build a period appropriate model of Timbuktu and surrounding desert, complete with an oasis which is used as the spawn point for student traders.
- Students were told that they would be traders from Arabia, the Mediterranean, or other African culture and that they were seeking fame and fortune before they return home.
- After arriving at the desert oasis, seek the guidance of the caravan leaders and make your way to Timbuktu where you locate other traders, bankers, and merchants and exchange your goods and cash for resources that your city demands.
1. After spawning at the oasis, seek out the caravan leader, old man, and Oluchi the Trader for clues about your quest.
2. Working with other traders, or on you own, use the advice of the old man to find your way to Timbuktu.
3. After arriving in Timbuktu, meet with the local merchants to see what they have to offer.
4. Visit the local bank and observe the current exchange rates. Not all items have the same value.
5. Using the resources that you brought with you from your village as a starting point, buy, sell, and trade items with the locals.
6. Through trade, try to acquire as much gold, copper, cloth, salt, slaves, and meat as possible. You will also earn a bonus for converting citizens to Islam, and for acquiring local cultural items such as music and books.
7. Participate in the scheduled Silent Trade event and attempt to make the best trades possible.
8. Return to the oasis and cash out your items with Oluchi the Trader. Who ended up with the most value? What strategy was used?
- Write a blog post from the point of view of your character. Describe the setting and events using descriptive details. Discuss your trading successes and limitations. Why do you think silent trade was used?
- After sharing your blog post, visit posts by others involved in the simulation and comment on their experiences as compared to yours.
The simulation went well, however the NPC behaviors needed to be fine tuned more. I did not anticipate that some students would rush about as they did trying to gather resources while disregarding their individual values. These students were more focused with gathering items than they were with building value.
As I become more comfortable with Custom NPCs, I’ll come back to this unit and build it out more. The next challenge for my class will be a group build of the Medieval Chinese capital city of Chang’an.