Diana Montaño

Diana Montaño

Assistant Professor of History​
PhD, University of Arizona

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  • Thursday
    10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
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  • MSC 1062-107-114
    Washington University
    One Brookings Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63130-4899

Diana J. Montaño's teaching and research interests broadly include the construction of modern Latin American societies with a focus on technology and its relationship to nationalism, everyday life and domesticity.

Her first book Electrifying Mexico: Technology and the Transformation of a Modern City examines how ordinary citizens (businessmen, salespersons, inventors, doctors, housewives, maids and domestic advisors) used electricity, both symbolically and physically, in the construction of a modern nation. The book weaves together how these "electrifying agents" first crafted a discourse for an electrified future and secondly, how they shaped its consumption. It shows how these agents of modernity promoted and created both imaginary and tangible notions of this technology. Taking a user-based perspective, this study reconstructs how electricity was lived, consumed, rejected, and shaped in everyday life.

Her articles on the intersection of humor and class in streetcar accidents were published by History of Technology and Technology's Stories respectively. Her article “Ladrones de Luz: Policing Electricity in Mexico City, 1901-1918” on power theft appeared last February in the Hispanic American Historical Review. She is co-editor of the University of Nebraska Press’ book series Confluencias on Mexican history. She also serves as convener for the Working Group: History of Science, Technology & Culture in Latin America. (https://www.chstm.org/latin-america)

Prof. Montaño is currently a fellow at the Linda Hall Library where she is researching for her second book project, (Dis)Placing Necaxa: Power Networks and Erased Histories in Mexico (1890s-1914), which will explore the transnational networks of capital, expertise, and machinery that contributed to the creation of the Necaxa hydroelectric complex in southern Mexico. This project seeks to rescue the histories of towns, indigenous workers, and water bodies that were displaced—both by force and voluntarily—during its construction. It will also trace how certain everyday native technologies were incorporated in the construction of the Necaxa complex but have remained uncredited.

Her collaborative project “Urban Palisades: Technology in the Making of Santa Fe, Mexico City,” which interrogates the role of technologies in cementing socioeconomic segregation in contemporary Mexico City was recently launched as part of the Center for the Humanities’ Divided City Initiative.

She is also coordinating an edited volume on aesthetics of technology in Latin America with Assoc. Prof. Yovanna Pineda (University of Central Florida) and Assistant Professor Sonia Robles (University of Delaware). The volume focuses on Latin American technological aesthetics and design through an in-depth exploration of state modernization projects for the urban and rural environments and individual users who reimagined or reconfigured the aesthetics of technological devices as these were domesticated in their context of use. Expanding the concept of sociotechnical imaginaries scholars in the volume (1) explore how these imaginaries are/were informed and are informed by the politics of design and aesthetics (2) underline the way these imaginaries are not only textual but visual and aural, (3) and, how users altered and reinvented the aesthetics/design of technological devices to meet their cultural and personal values, needs and desires. 

Prof. Montaño recently joined the podcast Everyday Energy, part of the Energy Humanities research initiative at Georgetown-Qatar for a conversation on everyday lived experiences of energy. (https://cirs.qatar.georgetown.edu/how-everyday-people-electrified-mexico-city/)

Articles:

Diana J. Montaño, Machucados and Salvavidas: Patented Humour in the Technified Spaces of Everyday Life in Mexico City, 1900–1910, History of Technology, Special Issue: History of Technology in Latin America, Vol. 34 (2019): 43-64.

Electrifying Mexico Technology and the Transformation of a Modern City

Electrifying Mexico Technology and the Transformation of a Modern City

Faculty Fellow, Fall 2019

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.