Extension activities

Purpose: To extend students’ investigations of colonialism and deepen their thinking by tackling problems or dilemmas relevant to the Aztecs and to Australian Indigenous history, particularly around ethical dimensions and challenges.

Test students’ mastery of the ideas presented in the exhibition. Ask them to choose one of the following issue-based activities and work on it in pairs, or in small groups. Emphasise the theme of ethics.

1. ‘Christian priests did all they could to root out and destroy the rites, beliefs and religious iconography of Mesoamerica.’

Source: D. Carrasco, The Aztecs

  • How did this practice affect Aztec society and culture?
  • What approach did Christian missionaries in Australia take towards the rites, beliefs and religious iconography of Indigenous peoples?
  • How did this affect Indigenous people and their culture?
  • What differences can you see between the two situations?


2. There was a gap between the noble class and commoners in Aztec society. The main ways to improve your status (or ‘climb the ladder’) were:

  • through commerce as a successful merchant
  • through the priesthood
  • by taking many captives as a warrior.

What was the social structure in Spain at the time of the Spanish Conquest? How did people there climb the ladder?


3. ‘The Spaniards and generations of historians have presented the Conquest of Mexico by a handful of brave and resourceful soldiers as the inevitable consequence of the cultural superiority of European over native cultures.’

Source: M. Coe & R. Koontz, Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, p. 233

  • Was the conquest of Mexico inevitable? Why? What factors might have prevented it?


4. ‘The idea that the Indian principalities (as opposed to Indian individuals) might have the rights to the land had scarcely occurred to the Dominicans.’

Source: H. Thomas, Conquest: Montezuma, Cortés and The Fall of Old Mexico, p. 199

Note: Here, the term Indian refers the first peoples of the region and principalities means their rulers or government. The Dominicans were a Catholic order of missionaries.

  • Explore the idea of rights to the land.
  • How do people in Australian society have rights to the land?
  • How did people have rights to the land in Spain at the time of the Spanish Conquest?
  • How does the Aztec concept of rights to the land compare with that of Indigenous Australians?


5. ‘We have a duty to the people of the past: to rescue them from the falsifying simplifications we impose if we refuse to see the fog through which they are trying to make their way.’

 Source: I. Clendinnen, Dancing with Strangers, p. 286

  • Discuss what you think Clendinnen means here.
  • Clendinnen is referring to the meeting between Indigenous people and white settlers at Sydney Cove but she has also studied the Aztecs. How does her remark apply to both situations?
  • Does this statement apply equally to both groups involved in each situation? Why or why not?


6. ‘Respect is based on the recognition that every person is important and must be treated with dignity.’

Source: ACARA, Australian Curriculum Statement on Intercultural Understanding

  • In adopting this belief, are we now essentially different from the conquerors of the past? Give some examples from your own experiences or observations to support your answer.
  • What are some of the difficulties people find in being respectful towards others? How might these be overcome? What’s your experience of such difficulties?



Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), Australian Curriculum Statement on Intercultural Understanding 

Carrasco, D., The Aztecs: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2012

Clendinnen, I., Dancing with Strangers Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2003

Coe M., and Koontz, R., Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, Thomas & Hudson, 2013

Thomas, H., Conquest: Montezuma, Cortés and the Fall of Old Mexico, Simon & Schuster, 2005