Aztecs and Earthmen: Declining Civilizations and Dying Races

Nadja Durbach

in Spectacle of Deformity

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780520257689
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520944893 | DOI:
Aztecs and Earthmen: Declining Civilizations and Dying Races

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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“The Last of the Mysterious Aztecs” were exhibited in London in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Their publicity materials emphasized that they were the only remaining members of a once great civilization that had over time become degenerate and thus died off. This chapter argues that “the Aztecs” were exceptionally popular in the 1850s—a crucial and triumphant moment in Britain's imperial self-fashioning—because they had helped to instruct the British public exactly how to imagine their place in the hierarchy of civilizations and empires. As the last specimens of a now-extinct nation, “the Aztecs” functioned as a warning of the decline and fall of even complex civilizations. At the height of Britain's industrial and imperial ascendancy, however, this performance also encouraged spectators to construct themselves as members of a historically unparalleled and uniquely advanced culture that would not only survive, but expand, progress, and inevitably dominate the globe.

Keywords: Britain; self-fashioning; civilizations; empires; culture

Chapter.  12728 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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