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Lesson 3.2: Populations on the Move


Lesson 3.2: Populations on the Move


Topic 1: Populations Patterns and Migration: Why Do People Leave Home?


Using modern scholarship and period accounts and literary sources, this lesson traces the Norman migrations south (Sicily) and Arab migrations from east to west (the Hilali migrations). Exploring what motivates people to move in recent history and long ago, the readings on migration during the period trace two important medieval migrations in the Western Mediterranean—the Hilali and Norman invasions.


Tom Verde


Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: A World History Curriculum Project for Educators


Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University




2014, Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University, published under Creative Commons – Attribution-No Derivatives 3.0 License


1-2 class periods


• Students will trace the Hilali and Norman invasions on maps of the Mediterranean region and analyze the epic poems of Bani Hilal for the causes of migration and the self-image of the Bani Hilal themselves.

• They will hypothesize the probable causes of these migrations and describe their impacts on the regions to which they migrated, as well as on the migrants.

• They will analyze Ibn Khaldun’s writings on the Hilali migrations and contrast them with historians’ assessment of the phenomenon.

• They will compare literary sources on the Norman invasion of Sicily such as Ibn Jubayr.

• They will identify ways in which these migrations added to the ethnic and cultural diversity of the Mediterranean, and compare them to earlier and later examples (Phoenicians, Romans Vandals, Arabs, and later European colonialism).

• They will relate migration to the multi-cultural/multi-national flavor of the Mediterranean during the period, further analyzing the question of what makes a city, i.e. population movement.


• Student Handout 3.2.1

Lesson Plan Text

1. After asking what motivates people to move in recent history, hand out the readings on migration during the period from the McEvedy Atlas of Medieval History, then readings on the Hilali migrations and the evolution of Norman Sicily after the Norman invasions.

2. Introduce the lesson by asking students to think about what makes people migrate from one place to another. Why do people relocate to other towns, cities, and even countries? What is in it for them, and what does it mean to the people whose lands they come to inhabit? Have them think about their own community/country today and discuss who the immigrant populations are and why they settled there.

3. Next, have students think about and jot down some keywords on what happens in places where immigrants settle. Are they always welcomed? Do they try to blend in, or do they set up neighborhoods or towns reflective of their own culture? Or is it a little of both? Compare military and other types of migrations.

4. After discussing factors influencing migration and its host societies, assign the readings in the lesson that chronicle the movement of Arab Bedouin (nomadic) people across North Africa during the mid-11th to the mid-12th centuries, and the Norman invasion of Sicily at about the same time.

5. Assign the readings and map in Handout 3.2.1 on migration, and have students individually or in pairs answer the questions to think about after the readings. Among the issues raised in the readings are attitudes about the invaders, their impact on the receiving communties, as well as ways in which people mixed and influenced each other in the destination society, for example, how Norman (i.e. northern European) and Arab cultures mingled on the island of Sicily under Norman leadership.

6. VIDEO: The video “Forms and Motifs” from the website Qantara, Mediterranean Heritage at helps to show how contact between cultures helped to introduce various artistic and architectural concepts and elements from one culture to another. Ask the students to research and identify various Oriental motifs in Western art from the time frame 300 – 1500 CE.



Tom Verde, “Lesson 3.2: Populations on the Move,” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed August 3, 2020,

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