Title: Is A Nation Always A Region?321

Key Words: Regions, colonialism, ethnic conflicts, boundary disputes.

National Standard: 5
That people create regions to interpret Earth's complexity.

State Standard: 11
Students will demonstrate an understanding of the physical and human geographic features that define places and regions.

Teaching Level: H

Lesson Introduction:

Not infrequently, students assume that the configurations of nation states correspond to regions. As seen in many areas, nations may not be viable political, ethnic, or economic entities. This lesson assists students in understanding the differences between political constructs and regions. It is important to recognize that a region could be a) physical, b) cultural, or c) a combination of both.

Conventionally," nation" is used to refer to a community of people, while the term
"state" usually is a political entity with boundaries.

Objectives/Purpose: To evaluate viable political regions; to analyze the boundaries established in Africa by the colonial powers; to assess the results of those boundary designations.

Materials: Overhead projector; overhead maps of Africa, showing colonial and present political boundaries; standard reference sources, such as CDs, the Internet, encyclopedia entries, and atlases.


l. Discuss "region," a concept which helps us to identify areas of the Earth for various purposes. Note the fact that a region "has certain characteristics that give it a measure of cohesiveness and distinctiveness and that set it apart from other regions." [Geography for Life, page 70].

Connect to student experience by asking students to name and describe some of the regions within which they live [New England; their immediate community or neighborhood]. Discuss to assure student understanding of the concept.

2. Display an overhead political map of Africa. Ask students whether they think the nations of Africa are themselves regions. Discuss, making reference to current news articles on disputes within Africa today.

Note that during the post-independence period, boundary conflicts have occurred between a number of African nations, among them present-day Morocco and Algeria, Mauritania and Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso, Libya and Chad, and others. Ask students what they think the reasons for these conflicts might be. Discuss .

3. Divide the class into groups. Explain that each group has been hired by the United Nations to devise a definition of a "viable political region." This "viable political region" could exist as a strong and independent nation state, one which would have its own identity and which would thrive without suffering from internal chaos or external threat.

Within each group, assign roles as follows: economist, political scientist, historian, physical geographer/resources expert, and cultural geographer (expert in ethnography, linguistics, and religion).

Students are to devise a list of questions which would define whether or not a given area was a viable region, one which could exist independently because of a strong internal sense of identify and freedom from allegiances to another state.

[Considerations might include: Is there a sufficient resource base to allow economic strength? Are ethnic groups contained within national borders, or is there a large minority population still living in another state? Are ethnic groups within the nation friendly with each other, or are there animosities? What sorts of freedoms are the ethnic groups allowed?] Note: The nation/state of Canada can be examined.

4. Allow twenty minutes for students to compose a list of questions within groups. Then meet as a whole group to share ideas from the groups and to establish a list of common questions. Discuss at the end of class.

5. The next day, each group will choose a nation in Africa. Using common reference materials such as CDs, the Internet, encyclopedia sources, and atlases, the experts within the groups will research their own specialty area and analyze for the rest of the group whether or not their nation is a viable region.

6. Meet as a class to share reports analyzing the nations of Africa.
7. Ask students why they think the boundaries in Africa were drawn as they were.

8. Using the overhead, display a map of the colonial boundaries. Explain that the boundaries were drawn by Europeans with little knowledge of or interest in the physical or cultural characteristics of the continent.

9. Debrief in discussion, noting the importance of understanding the past in interpreting present conflicts, as well as the importance of geographic information in making political decisions.

Evaluation/Assessment: Student group work in devising questions to define viable political regions; student group reports on various nations of Africa; student answers to discussion questions.

Enrichment/Extension: Have students research further to redraw boundaries within Africa, based on their questions. Useful source materials include Africa Today: An Atlas of Reproducible Pages. (Wellesley. Mass.: World Eagle, 1983) and Ieuan Ll. Griffiths, The Atlas of African Affairs (London: Witwatersrand University Press, 1994). Ask students about the difficulties in redrawing boundaries once they are established over time.

Teachers may also adapt this unit to the post-World War I period, when the idea of self-determination of nations promoted by Woodrow Wilson was one reason for the redefinition of boundaries across substantial portions of Eastern Europe.

Students may research the reasons that the boundaries were drawn as they were and evaluate the wisdom of these boundary delineations, given the subsequent history of the area. Using a reference such as Goodes Atlas, students can compare linguistic and political boundaries.

In more recent times the former Soviet Union can be a point of examination in applying the concepts of this lesson.

Additional Standards: National standard 2 (mental maps); standard 6 (perceptions of places and regions); standard 10 (cultural mosaics); standard 11 (economic interdependence); standard 13 (cooperation and conflict); standard 17 (interpret the past); standard 18 (interpret the present and plan for the future); state standard 10 (maps, technologies, and mental maps); standard 13 (human systems; cooperation and conflict); standard 14 (human/physical systems and resources); standard 15 (interpret the past and present and plan for the future).

Reflection: How successful was this lesson? Did all students benefit? Were there any surprises? What might you do differently another time? Please note any changes that will make this lesson more effective and useful in the future, and pass them along to the NHGA. We appreciate your comments.

Thank you,
The authors.

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