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Electrifying Mexico

Electrifying Mexico
Technology and the Transformation of a Modern City

This detailed cultural history of technological change argues that ordinary Mexicans became electrifying agents who actively negotiated the extent and manner electricity entered their lives and lived spaces in Mexico City.

Series: Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowment in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture

September 2021
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390 pages | 6 x 9 |

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.


2022 Alfred B. Thomas Book Award Winner, Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • 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!)
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Diana J. Montaño is an assistant professor of history at Washington University in St. Louis.


“Professor 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, Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany, coeditor of Urban Machinery: Inside Modern European Cities

“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, 1890-1950

“Diana 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 Mexico

“Diana 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, 1908-1940