AMERG016: The Rise of the Sunbelt since 1945

(!) Not running in 2015-16

Course convenor: Prof Iwan Morgan


In 1981 the San Diego Union newspaper portrayed the rise of the Sunbelt as not just a shift in the regional balance of power within America but also ‘America II emerging from the diminished promise of America I.’ The Sunbelt is the most recent manifestation of America’s fascination with its own renewal. Since 1945 the once quasi-colonial American South and Southwest have been transformed into the nation’s most dynamic region in political and economic terms. From 1964 through 2008 every elected US president came from the region. Sunbelt cities became the fastest growing in the nation. The region was also home to industries identified with modern US economic growth – aerospace, defense, IT, and electronics – in contrast to the association of the so-called Rustbelt states of the North East and Great Lakes Midwest with declining heavy industries. In essence the politics and political economy of the Sunbelt have shaped those of the United States since the election of Ronald Reagan signaled a new era of conservative ascendancy in national politics. This course examines the emergence of conservative Sunbelt politics from 1945 to 1980 and its ascendancy over the next quarter-century. It also considers whether Barack Obama’s election as president, demographic changes, and economic developments in the wake of the ‘Great Recession’ of 2007-09 signal major changes in the identity and ascendancy of the Sunbelt.

Within this broad context, the course examines: the problems of defining the Sunbelt; comparisons and contrasts between the postwar political and economic development of the Sunbelt South and Southwest; the emergence of the “New South” and its late twentieth/early twentyfirst century political significance; the Sunbelt “superstates” of California, Texas, and Florida; and the demographic changes in the contemporary Sunbelt that foreshadow those the US as a whole will experience in the twenty-first century

Teaching is through a combination of weekly lectures and seminars and assessment is through a 4,000 word essay.

Introductory reading

  • Bullock, Charles & Mark Rozell (ed) The New Politics of the Old South: An Introduction to Southern Politics (Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006)
  • Donald Critchlow The Conservative Ascendancy: How the GOP Right Made Political History (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2007)
  • Sean Cunningham Cowboy Conservatism: Texas and the Rise of the Modern Right (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2010)
  • Kevin Fernlund (ed.) The Rise of the Cold War West 1945-1989 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998)
  • Raymond Mohl (ed.) Searching for the Sunbelt: Historical Perspectives on a Region (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990)
  • Starr, Kevin, Coast of Dreams: California on the Edge, 1990-2003 (London: Allen Lane, 2005)