Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Herman Bennett

Committee Members

Mary Roldan

Michael Rawson

Subject Categories

Canadian History | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Latin American History | Political History | United States History


Electricity, Hydroelectricity, Engineering, Mexico, Water, State Formation


State formation has for decades been a major analytical focus for historians of Mexico, especially during the armed Mexican Revolution (1910–20) and the “long” political and social revolution which continued for decades thereafter. Since the 1980s, the cultural turn in the humanities has produced groundbreaking works in the field and introduced a model of state formation framed around hegemony, subaltern agency, and the nation. While these reflect prevailing approaches, this dissertation joins more recent interdisciplinary work on Mexico in conversation with a ‘material turn’ in the humanities and social sciences. Focusing on the policy debates and infrastructural networks which attended state formation in Chihuahua in the long Revolution, this dissertation brings the subfield of Mexican state formation into conversation with Sociology, Environmental History, and Science and Technology Studies (STS), among others. It explores the little-known history of one of the earliest hydroelectric systems in Mexico, which was built in Chihuahua by Canadian promoters in the waning years of the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911). Drawing on archival documents from relevant federal ministries, private papers, and contemporary engineering literature, this dissertation describes the deliberate and gradual integration of this private energy system into the circuitry of the growing Mexican state. It identifies severe drought in the late 1920s as a major inflection point in this process, since it invited greater federal oversight over water use and set this hydropower system on two related but divergent developmental paths. The first of these was state-led irrigation, which has been explored by Mexican water historian Luis Aboites, and which would come to define the Conchos River basin. The second was private electrical provision, explored here for the first time, which was forced by the 1930s to evolve away from its foundations in hydropower. “Powerhouse Chihuahua” demonstrates the utility of infrastructure in reassessing state formation in Mexico, while also proposing productive avenues for exploring the deep and wide entanglement of foreign capital and state formation in Mexico and throughout Latin America.