Context for the Aztec story
The Spanish Conquest of the Aztecs happened at a time of great change in Spain. Columbus had set sail in 1492 and the Age of Exploration was underway. Spain had just succeeded in the Reconquista, driving out Islamic rulers and establishing a Spanish state under the joint rule of the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. New ideas from the Italian Renaissance were changing Spanish notions of national identity. These were all important factors in the transition from a medieval world to a modern one.
The Spaniards’ arrival in Mexico brought about a collision between traditional culture and modern ideas. Studying this period in history can provide valuable insights into differences between two ways of life and contrasting belief systems. The Aztecs exhibition provides a very engaging space for this. It tells the story of a clash of cultures and the miscommunication and misunderstandings this involved, inviting visitors to explore the motives and methods of the Spanish Conquest.
Teachers can also draw on the First Peoples exhibition to compare the Aztec experience with the way European colonisation of Australia impacted on Indigenous peoples here. This approach can partly meet the requirements for a cross-disciplinary perspective on Aboriginal-Torres Strait Islander experiences.
An approach to studies
The online exhibition resource Mapping the curriculum outlines an approach to the study of the Aztecs and Spanish colonisation. Students are asked to frame responses to the inquiry question ‘how did societies change from the end of the ancient period to the beginning of the modern age?’ Many themes within the Overview can be taught as an introduction to the study of the Aztecs and Spanish colonialism.