Diana Schwartz

  • Fellowship year:2015-2016
  • University: University of Chicago
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Latin America
  • Dissertation Title: Transforming the Tropics: Development, Displacement, and Anthropology in the Papaloapan, Mexico, 1940s-1970s
  • In the 1950s the Mexican government commissioned anthropologists to relocate over twenty thousand indigenous language speakers living in the Papaloapan River Basin to make way for a massive hydroelectric dam.  The dam was the cornerstone of Mexico's first integrated development project:  the power of the river was harnessed for electricity generation, roads were constructed, schoolhouses were erected, and public health brigades abounded.  Yet efforts to develop this tropical periphery also included a plan to transform its people:  the anthropologists in the Papaloapan devised culturally-sensitive programs and utopian resettlement communities to fully incorporate the relocated population- in social, economic, and political terms- into the Mexican nation.

    This dissertation examines the transformations set in motion by the Papaloapan Project to show how ideas about managed social change worked in practice.  Though scholars have studied the impact of top-down development schemes on populations that are often depicted as poor, rural, and marginalized, few have turned their attention to how modernization projects and national integration programs shaped one another during the mid-twentieth century.  Drawing from locals' petitions, engineers' reports, anthropologists' field notes, and oral testimony, the dissertation charts the geographical, social, and political changes in the river basin to reveal how the actors in the Papaloapan- including the relocated population- created, applied, and retooled scientific knowledge.  Both their work and the physical changes in the landscape betray the shifting and fluid nature of state power and indigeneity during this understudied period of Mexican history (1940s-1970s).