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Representing Tenochtitlan: Understanding Urban Life by Collecting Material Culture



How can museums best document and represent the complexity of urban life and the significance of modern cities? We consider this question through an examination of the Aztec World exhibit, presented at the Field Museum of Chicago from October 2008 through April 2009. We explain how the effort to represent Tenochtitlan, the heterogeneous urban capital of the Aztec Empire (C.E. 1428–1521), was affected by the acquisitions policies of museums in the United States and Mexico, and by the curators' own ideas about how urban societies should be represented. Drawing on this background, we outline how a careful and comprehensive collection program can resist poor interpretation and misrepresentation, and may even prefigure new and better understandings of cities that will be gained in the future. [urbanism, material culture, Aztec Empire, Mexico]