HST2502: Understanding the Aztecs: Life and Death in Early Sixteenth-Century Mexico

20 credits (semester 2)

Module Leader: Dr Caroline Dodds Pennock


Module Summary

Since the devastating arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in 1519, the history of the Aztecs has been haunted by the spectre of human sacrifice. As bloody priests and brutal warriors, the Aztecs have peopled the pages of history, myth and fiction, their spectacular violence dominating perceptions of their culture and casting a veil over their unique way of life. But the Aztecs' island-capital of Tenochtitlan was not only a centre for ritual sacrifice, but also a sophisticated metropolis, home to a civilised society of highly educated individuals and close loving families. This module attempts to recover the complex and sometimes contradictory reality of the Aztec world by studying life in Tenochtitlan on the eve of the Spanish conquest. Central to the module will be the attempt to contextualize the role of human sacrifice and understand how the Aztecs were able to remain a very human and recognizable society, whilst living amongst so much violent bloodshed.


The aim of this module is to analyse Aztec beliefs, practices and society at the turn of the sixteenth century, equipping you with the knowledge and critical awareness required to evaluate different interpretations of this controversial culture. The module also aims to develop awareness of the sensitivities and political issues which impact on the study of indigenous American histories. You will also develop skills in teamwork, analysis and written and verbal communication.

Teaching and Assessment

The module will be taught through eleven lecture workshops and eleven seminars. Lectures will introduce you to the basic historical and historiographical context and prime students on pertinent issues and sources. Some of these sessions will take a straight-forward lecture format, but several will expect you to contribute by engaging with key questions in groups. Seminars will provide opportunities for you to present your ideas and interpretations to the wider group. They will be based on systematic study of primary and secondary materials prepared in advance and will involve student-led discussions in order to enhance team-working, presentational and interpretative skills.

Information on assessment can be found at: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/current_students/undergraduate/assessment/level2


Intended Learning Outcomes
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