By Michelle Nickerson
When Darren Dochuk and I convened the Sunbelt Rising conference in 2008, it was because we thought that the Bush-era political economic climate and recent scholarly developments demanded that we bring people together to rethink the importance of the Sunbelt as a twentieth- and twenty-first century region. In fact, the success of the conservative movement and our own research on the American right originally inspired a conference on “Sunbelt Conservatism,” but the burgeoning research on growth liberalism, civil rights reform, and the Global South caused us to expand the political scope while reaching intentionally towards economic themes. For the same reasons it made sense to be interdisciplinary, so four of our thirteen writers are political scientists: Sylvia Manzano, Daniel HoSang, Lyman Kellstedt, and James Guth.
For the presentations (which would ultimately be published) we wanted work that represented much needed updates on the region, so we chose authors who addressed the following: expansion of prisons and state power, the Latinoization of politics and economic life, the advancement of private and commercial property interests, migration of people and capital across the borderlands, growth of the energy sector and its impact on the Navajo, frostbelt to sunbelt migration, and the nexus of evangelical Christianity and capitalism.
We had two gatherings that year—at the Huntington in the Fall of 2008 and at Southern Methodist University in the Spring of 2009. In addition to generous funding and hospitality from ICW, we were part of an annual conference series sponsored by the Clements Center for Southwest Studies at SMU that develops presentations into essay volumes.
Our first meeting on that Friday in September assembled us into one of the Huntington’s Ahmanson classrooms for the first round of workshopping. Having read the first draft of each other’s essays in preparation for the event, we subjected them to sustained forty-five minute critiques. On Saturday, the scholars gave presentations to a lively audience in the Overseers’ Room. I have memories of a fantastic crowd—professors and students from the region sharing space with the curious public that often turns out for Huntington scholarly events. Our plan was to keep the presentations short, with four in one panel, which turned out to be perfect since it invited substantial audience participation. There were great discussions; and we left Pasadena energized and brimming with notes for our revisions.
Seven months later we reconvened in Dallas for the repeat conference at SMU. Looking back, I realize that Darren and I demanded a lot from our scholars to make them meet twice, but the intensity of our September Huntington meeting made the Texas work session fun. I remember watching presentations by historians, bleary-eyed from margaritas the late night before. The multiple drafts forced by these gatherings, moreover, pushed our project swiftly along its schedule.
We are very proud of the volume it generated, ultimately published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2011, called Sunbelt Rising: The Politics of Place, Space, and Region.
Michelle Nickerson is an Associate Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago.