Technology and the Transformation of a Modern City
389 Pages, 29 b&w illus., 2 b&w maps
Sales Date: August 24, 2021
2022 Alfred B. Thomas Book Award, Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies (SECOLAS)
2022 Bolton-Johnson Prize, Conference on Latin American History (CLAH)
2022 Best Book in Non-North American Urban History, Urban History Association (Co-winner)
2023 Honorable Mention, Best Book in the Humanities, Latin American Studies Association Mexico Section
2023 Turriano Book Prize, International Committee for the History of Technology
Many visitors to Mexico City’s 1886 Electricity Exposition were amazed by their experience of the event, which included magnetic devices, electronic printers, and a banquet of light. It was both technological spectacle and political messaging, for speeches at the event lauded President Porfirio Díaz and bound such progress to his vision of a modern order.
Diana J. Montaño explores the role of electricity in Mexico’s economic and political evolution, as the coal-deficient country pioneered large-scale hydroelectricity and sought to face the world as a scientifically enlightened “empire of peace.” She is especially concerned with electrification at the social level. Ordinary electricity users were also agents and sites of change. Montaño documents inventions and adaptations that served local needs while fostering new ideas of time and space, body and self, the national and the foreign. Electricity also colored issues of gender, race, and class in ways specific to Mexico. Complicating historical discourses in which Latin Americans merely use technologies developed elsewhere, Electrifying Mexico emphasizes a particular national culture of scientific progress and its contributions to a uniquely Mexican modernist political subjectivity.
Drawing on a wide source base, Electrifying Mexico is a beautifully written history of the technology and cultural manifestations of electricity in Mexico City. The stories are delightful and illustrative and speak to Mexican history beyond electricity.
— Susie S. Porter, author of From Angel to Office Worker: Middle-Class Identity and Female Consciousness in Mexico, 1890-1950Diana Montaño's Electrifying Mexico is impressive. Examining all things electric, Montaño explores how technological systems were socially constructed, not only by their creators, but also by their consumers. The book is innovative in its approach, combining economic and cultural history with science and technology studies.
— Justin Castro, author of Apostle of Progress: Modesto C. Rolland, Global Progressivism, and the Engineering of Revolutionary MexicoProfessor Montaño’s cultural history of electricity in Mexican society is a real tour de force. Bringing out the reactions of ordinary Mexicans to electric light, trams, and modern household machinery, the author emphasizes the contested character of this technology. Rather than being blinded by the promises of this new form of energy, many people despised the penetrating brightness of electric light and were appalled by the cruel consequences of tram accidents. The technological landscape of electricity was slow in emerging, and it was shaped largely by issues of class, race, and gender.
— Mikael Hård, Darmstadt University of Technology, coauthor of Hubris and Hybrids: A Cultural History of Technology and Science[Electrifying Mexico] shines as an in-depth exploration of the social and cultural dimensions of the introduction of electrification…indispensable to the literature on modern Mexico.
— Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean StudiesDiana Montaño offers an innovative model for understanding the relations among technological, cultural, and political change. Electrifying Mexico spectacularly illuminates how the new nation 'Mexicanized' electricity, from its introduction by foreign companies in the late nineteenth century to government nationalization in 1960. Along the way, the author deftly shows the agency of citizens, who invented, adapted, and operated new technologies and manipulated billing meters. Housewives embraced electric stoves and male labor unions invoked their 'masculinidad energética' in behalf of nationalization. Montaño expertly reveals how all came to see themselves and their country differently under the light of new technologies.
— John Lear, author of Picturing the Proletariat: Artists and Labor in Revolutionary Mexico, 1908-1940Electrifying Mexico is an essential book for all students of the history of urban technologies...Electrifying Mexico provides an original contribution to the field by offering a far more complex history of electricity than had existed in previous studies, focusing on the urban cultural history of human imaginations around technology and the intangibility of electrical energy...this engaging book makes a remarkable contribution to the historiography of studying electricity in urban space from the material and symbolic point of view in Mexico, Latin America, and other geographical areas.
— Planning PerspectivesA rich and lucid narrative about how electric power weaved into the myriad imaginations that forged Mexico City and conceptualizations of a national utility from the late nineteenth until the mid-twentieth century...the author has produced a foundational text on the history of electrification in Mexico, which will feature heavily in future scholarship on electrification in the Americas...Even if readers’ expertise or research interests lie outside of Mexico and Central America, Montaño’s thematic approach will prove invaluable as a tool for asking useful and productive questions about the history of electrification.
— H-Sci-Med-TechMontaño’s excellent cultural history of electricity in Mexico [is] a pioneering work in the field…Electrifying Mexico is very well-written and avoids the pitfalls of jargon-heavy cultural history. The book also successfully employs the tools of cultural history to capture Mexico City residents’ everyday experience of electrification and untangle the cultural practices and meanings they attached to its use...the book deserves ample praise for its elegant writing, meticulous research, the original use of sources, and as the first (as far as this reader knows) cultural history of electrification in Mexico.
— The AmericasMontaño has published a creative and exceptionally well-written book that offers U.S. storytelling at its best. Elegantly, larger research debates are woven throughout...thee book is warmly recommended to every historian of technology, consumption, and everyday life.
- Part I
- Chapter 1. Sensing the Beautiful Stranger
- Chapter 2. Exhibiting the Electric City
- Part II
- Chapter 3. Trapped under the Wheels of Modernity
- Chapter 4. Ladrones de Luz: A Scripted Electricscape, 1901-1918
- Part III
- Chapter 5. Becoming Electro-Domésticas: Electrical Appliances, Maids, and Middle-Class Domesticity, 1930s–1950s
- Chapter 6. The People, Their Electricscape, and the Vanguard of Labor, 1930s-1960
- Conclusion. ¡La Electricidad Es Nuestra! (Electricity Is Ours!)