How will these resources help you?

The Sahara often crops up as a case study or example in geography lessons when a class explores topics such as ecosystems, landscapes, resources, desertification, intermediate technology and more. These resources support teachers and students in developing their understanding of this hot desert, looking at how its distinctive landscapes developed over time, exploring the Sahara around the millennium and discussing indigenous cultures, colonialism and independence and issues related to sustainability. 

From greenery to aridity

When the Sahara Was Green: How Our Greatest Desert Came to Be

by Martin Williams, published by Princeton University Press, (2021)

Travellers to the Sahara find an arid landscape with evidence of past lakes, rivers and greenery. This book explores how the landscape has transformed over millions of years, considering the geology, ecology and people and how they have been affected by changes in the climate. Williams writes from vast experience of the Sahara, having first visited in 1962. His writing style makes this topic very accessible. It is great to see so many simple hand sketches – students will not only learn about the Sahara but also how to communicate ideas simply and effectively. The first two sections of the book explore the formation of the Sahara. The third considers the Sahara today, asking if the Sahara could be green again and how people could live in harmony with its environment. Teachers and older students will learn about the Sahara while at the same time gaining a greater understanding of climate change.

The Sahara for the armchair traveller


by Michael Palin and Basil Pao, published by Orion Books, (2003)

Palin is well-known for his engaging travel writing and documentaries. This book is a diary of Palin’s travels across the Sahara with photographer Basil Pao and a documentary team in 2001/2, which resulted in the BBC television series ‘Sahara’. The diary allows Palin to go into more detail about the places he visits. One way to enjoy this book is to watch the related episode and then read the chapter to learn more about the Sahara’s landscapes and characters. Teachers could choose diary entries related to lessons, using them to paint a picture of the place or issue for students.

Listening to indigenous voices

Man Of The Sahara: A Long Walk To Tuareg Statehood

by Akli Sh’kka, published by New Generation Publishing, (2020)

Sh’kka describes himself as a ‘Tuareg filmmaker, writer [and] spokesman for the Tuareg people’. The Tuareg are semi-nomadic people found in an area encompassing northern Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Libya, who practise Sunni Islam. A group of Tuareg formed The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad in 2011, declaring independence for this area. However, this led to further disagreements and was opposed by the UN. Sh’kka explores the impact of French colonisation on the Tuareg and other factors which led to the failure of Azawad, but the book has a hopeful tone, calling for the end of 60 years of conflict. It gives a voice to indigenous people from the Sahara Desert, developing our understanding of issues including colonialism, conflict and peace-making. This book is recommended for teachers and older students.

More than a wall of trees

The Great Green Wall

by Ryan Schleeter, published by National Geographic, (2022)

It is easy to over-simplify projects in the Sahara, but this resource clearly introduces the reader to the complexities of ‘The Great Green Wall’. It explains why the Wall was needed and then sets the project in its political context. A key part of the article is its discussion of the ‘integrated landscape approach’, which means that each country approaches the project in a way suited to its own needs. The article also stresses that the project is about much more than planting trees, with improving degraded habitats and agroforestry playing vital roles and an emphasis on learning from indigenous farmers. It tackles the misconception that the Sahara Desert is growing in all directions head-on and includes examples of success stories. This article could be used to take students’ understanding of tackling desertification beyond the sometimes simplistic explanations in textbooks, challenging them to think about the importance of thinking global and acting local.
Africa: Sahara, published by BBC One, (2013) Watch this video
Africa’s Great Civilisations: Ancient life in the Sahara, published by BBC Four, (2018) Watch this clip
The ‘New Colonialism’ – The Case of Western Sahara by Tom Lebert, published by New Internationalists, (2016) Read this article
One, two, tree: how AI helped find millions of trees in the Sahara by Amy Fleming, published by The Guardian, (2021) Read this article
The Greening of the Sahara: Past Changes and Future Implications by Francesco S.R. Pausata et al., published by One Earth, (2020) Access this resource
Catherine Owen is Head of Geography at The King Alfred School an Academy, a CGeog and a Geographical Association Consultant. She writes and presents for OUP, Hodder Geography, Tutor2U and more.

Text © Catherine Owen, 2022-2023