My colleague Lee Davidson is currently in Mexico City, she came to work together in our Project and to teach at the International Course on Visitor Studies that I organized at ENCRyM -the National School of Conservation, Restoration and Museography-. This course is attended by young mexican professionals who want to acquire new insights on visitor studies, training themselves on this field.
Lee’s session, titled Understanding Visitor Experience Through Qualitative Research, had the purpose of “examine the key contributions qualitative research has made to current understandings of visitor experience from the perspective of both theory and practice”.
The idea was that the students not only attended classroom sessions but they had the opportunity to experience the process of designing interview questions; apply it and analyze it, so we needed a small scale research problem. Due to our own research interest, we selected Templo Mayor Museums, as many interesting topics emerged on visitor interviews with New Zealand and Australian public that attended Aztecs: Conquest and Glory about human sacrifice and the links between Aztec culture and current Mexican culture.
This was a perfect opportunity to mix our interests. We posted the following research project for the students, so they could develop their own questions:
“Exercise: developing interview questions
Aztecs: Conquest and Glory was developed by the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of NZ , in close partnership with INAH and two Australian museums. Between 2013 and 2015, Aztecs was exhibited at Te Papa, Melbourne Museum, and the Australian Museum in Sydney. The Mexican and NZ curators wanted the exhibition to tell the complete story of the Mexica, including their everyday life and religious practices, from the rise of the Aztecs to the conquest, with a small section on the Aztec legacy in contemporary Mexico. The NZ curators particularly wanted to tell the story as much as possible from the worldview of the Mexica, including a ‘balanced’ and ‘non-judgemental’ portrayal of the nature and role of human sacrifice.
We conducted qualitative interviews with 57 visitors to the exhibition in NZ and Australia to find out how people perceived Mexican history and culture in the light of this exhibition. The issue of human sacrifice was particularly fascinating and challenging for many visitors: to many it seemed very violent and brutal. Others tried to understand it in the context of history, religion and politics of the time, rather than judge it from a contemporary viewpoint. Visitors also had different views about what happened to the Aztecs after the conquest and what their relevance was to modern-day Mexico.
These issues raised questions for us as researchers about how Aztec culture, human sacrifice and the contemporary relevance of Aztec culture was presented in museums in Mexico (if at all), and how these issues were perceived by Mexican museum visitors.
Using the Templo Mayor museum as a case study, we are interested in the following questions:
From the perspective of visitors, how is the issue of human sacrifice interpreted within the museum? What are their feelings about it? What kinds of understanding do they have of this practice?
What kind of connection (or disconnection) do visitors feel with the Mexica? How do they perceive the relevance of Aztec culture in contemporary Mexico?”
The group was split in teams, each team designing their own interview questions related to the research. The day of the practice, the students worked in groups to try out the questions, make adjustments and obtain the interviews. Later, the teams transcribed and analyzed them to make a presentation on the last day of the course module.
Francisco, Sara y Mariana
Melissa, Dolores y Adriana
Eduardo y Sheba
Cristina, Mónica y Sandra
Xatziri, Liduvina y Ana Lilia
The experience was so good, it actually got us thinking about the didactic implications of teaching this methodologies in visitor studies area. The students commented that although complex, the process was made easier by having a research problem and questions ahead.