Hydroelectric Development in Mexico, Palestine, and the U.S. South: Three Cases of Modern State Coproduction
This proposed panel explores the idea that the manipulation of nature has been central to the often contentious and painful process of modern state formation and that the project of modernity produced certain types of nature to be put to use for the greater national good. These uneven and contested processes of co-production become especially clear, as the proposed papers demonstrate, upon consideration of alterations to waterscapes for the generation of hydroelectricity in developing regions around the globe. Jonathan Hill’s paper analyzes the introduction of hydroelectric power into late-nineteenth-century Mexico during the modernizing presidency of Porfirio Díaz. Driven by North American capital and technology, this process transformed longstanding patterns of land and water use and triggered wider debates over the proper relationship of the state, private business interests, and individuals in appropriating natural resources. Fredrik Meiton’s paper explores the political economy of two Levantine rivers, the Jordan and the Yarmuk, as they were transformed, in the 1920s and 1930s, into national boundary markers and the site of hydroelectric power generation. Casey Cater’s paper examines the public-private clash over a proposed federal dam on the Savannah River in the early post-World War II US South. The outcome of this struggle—fought centrally over whether private capital or public interests would control nature and electricity—had broad implications for the role of the American state at the dawn of the Cold War and for the second half of the twentieth century. While each of the proposed papers considers a different region and different issues through the first half of the twentieth century, the panel as a whole speaks to scholars' broader concerns about energy development, environmental change, and political economy in global context, suggesting that people’s imaginations of, actions upon, and clashes over nature have been inextricably intertwined with the evolution of the modern state.