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. Electrifying Mexico... received the Urban History Association (UHA) prize for the best book in non-North American urban history for 2022 and the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies’ Alfred B. Thomas Award for the best book on a Latin American subject. Issues in Science and Technology recently published an excerpt from the book (https://issues.org/tag/ladrones-de-luz/) and responses to her work.
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 published in the Hispanic American Historical Review received the Canadian Association for Latin American and Caribbean Studies’ (CALACS) Article Prize for Emerging Scholar, The Bernard S. Finn IEEE History Prize, (administered by the Society for the History of Technology – SHOT- and awarded annually to the best paper in the history of electrotechnology—power, electronics, telecommunications, and computer science), as well as Honorable Mention from SECOLAS and from the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) for Best Article in the Social Sciences.
Prof. Montaño is a former fellow at the Linda Hall Library where she researched 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 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.
She is coordinating the edited volume Latin American Technocultural Worlds on aesthetics of technology in Latin America with Assoc. Prof. Yovanna Pineda (University of Central Florida). 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.