Pre-visit activities

Purpose: To set the context for the museum visit and exhibition experience.

1. About Aztecs

There are 6 sections to the exhibition. Allocate each student a section to give special attention to during their visit.

Have students prepare for the exhibition experience by doing some background research, using the following questions (arranged under section headings) as a guide. Some questions will require them to go beyond the links provided for each section, to draw on other Aztecs resources on the Melbourne Museum website and beyond.

Where did the Aztecs come from?
How did they come to create the great city of Tenochtitlán?

Pyramid of Power
In Aztec society, was it possible to move from one class to another? How?
What education did citizens receive?

War and Conquest
Why did war have such a central place in Aztec society?
How was war connected to human sacrifice?
What sort of weapons and protective gear did the Aztecs have?

Growing an Empire
How important was agriculture as a source of wealth?
What goods did merchants trade for?

Living with the Gods
What calendars did the Aztecs use and how did these work?
Why did the Aztecs think their gods required human sacrifice?

Fall of the Aztec Empire
What differences were there between the resources and military equipment of the Aztec and Spanish soldiers?
What other factors affected the Aztecs’ power against the Spanish?


2. About the world at the time of the Spanish Conquest

Discuss the following questions with students.

  • What was Europe like in 1500? How do you know? Where would you find out?
  • How was it different from the way it is today? How do you know? Where would you find out?
  • What areas of the world were unknown to the Spanish in 1500? How do you know? Where would you find out?

Divide the class into groups to do some basic research on specific questions, drawing on the class discussion.

Ask each group to briefly report their ideas and findings to the class, identifying key events, dates and sources they used (or might use for deeper research).

As each group reports, create a collective timeline as a class to show the sequence of key developments or events in the Aztec story and Spanish Conquest. (This may well suggest gaps or questions students can follow up at the museum visit or in post-visit activities.) Flag questions of ethics as you go.