I’m currently in one of the coolest classes I’ve taken at USC so far, called The Changing History of the Aztec Past: An Exploration in Rare Books and Images.

This class is offered through the Thematic Option program and meets once a week for three hours. While I had originally thought I would be utterly unable to function coherently in a 3-hour class, much of the class is devoted to the study of rare materials—replicas (oftentimes containing original photos) of the few surviving books and codices that discuss Mexica (Aztec) history. Engaging with these materials firsthand—looking at imagery and translation and learning how to “read” indigenous Mesoamerican pictographs—has been such an amazing experience.

An image of the Codex Mendoza taken in class

Even more amazing was the final project for the class: we were tasked with curating an exhibit that showcased various aspects of Mesoamerican history, to be displayed in Doheny Library at USC. For this project, I worked with my friend Cari to curate a case discussing Mexica religion and how it was understood and depicted under Spanish colonialism. We were truly immersed in the experience of being museum curators. We selected three codices that we felt best encompassed the various facets of Mexica religion during colonial times—which was difficult, since so many codices (especially those discussing Mexica religion) were destroyed by the Spanish. In addition, we wrote brief descriptions (“tombstones”) of each of the codices—the Codex Magliabechiano, Codex Ríos, and Florentine Codex—as well as a case description, all of which were printed (very fancily) on placards to be arranged in the case. Furthermore, we used different cradles and stands in order to aesthetically and effectively array the objects in our case.

Cari and my case, titled Gods to God: Analyzing Mexica Religion Through Colonial Codices

Having an exhibit in Doheny was already awesome, but on top of that, we also had a grand opening yesterday to present our work! Many more people came than I had expected, and although it was a bit nerve-wracking, it was also great to see people interested in learning more about the history presented in these cases. I loved being asked questions about my case, and I was really able to see how much I had learned in this class. . .I would never have been able to answer such in-depth questions about Mexica history otherwise!

The grand opening of our exhibit in Doheny Memorial Library

We also have an online exhibit currently up on Scalar! We’ve been working on writing more in-depth descriptions and analyses on each of the objects in our case, as well as other objects that weren’t able to make it into the case. I’m so excited to close this semester out having contributed to both an in-person and online exhibit as a curator, which is an experience I never thought I’d have!

A snapshot of the online exhibit, showing a digital image of the Codex Magliabechiano

Neha Yadav

Neha Yadav

I'm Neha, and I'm a junior majoring in biomedical engineering! Outside of classes, I'm a project manager for Engineers Without Borders, the Public Relations Chair for the Associated Students of Biomedical Engineering, and on the Executive Board for the Shaukat Initiative. I'm also involved in research in the MAD Lab (Laboratory for the Analysis and Design of Medical Devices). I have some experience in entrepreneurship—I won the Min Family Challenge in 2020 and founded a socially-minded startup, and also interned at two startups over the summer of 2021. In my free time, I love reading, hiking, and road-tripping!

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