We at TTUP have long published books on legal history and regional history. Now, we are putting them together and now acquiring projects that focus on… Politics of the Modern Southwest, edited by Sean Cunningham, author of Bootstrap Liberalism: Texas Political Culture in the Age of FDR and American Politics in the Postwar Sunbelt: Conservative Growth in a Battleground Region. You can submit proposals to [email protected] Our Editor in Chief spoke with Sean about the new series.
Sean! You are a Lubbockite, a West Texan, and someone who writes about the history of conservatism. I wonder if you could talk a bit about your personal context and how it’s influenced your scholarship. You’re from a pretty conservative environment, and you research elements of it. What’s that like?
Well, the first thing that comes to mind is to say that it’s never boring! For better or worse, the world feels like it’s more politically engaged than at any point in my lifetime, which makes the work I do seem more relevant, particularly given that my study of conservatism—and liberalism—is rooted in the modern history of Texas politics, meaning that it’s not uncommon to meet someone who has either worked with or knows many of the main “characters” from my books. It can be frustrating at times, but when everyone has an opinion, at least you know that your work is forcing people to think about how the past relates to the present. Ultimately, that’s all any historian could hope for.
I suppose I should mention that you are editorial committee chair at TTU Press and now a series editor. You are also chair of the history department. So I assume you love administrative work. What is interesting to you about being involved in publishing and shepherding the scholarship of others?
I certainly wouldn’t say that I “love” administrative work, although to be honest, it can be more rewarding than people think. I might not love all aspects of what I do, but I do like people—and I love helping people. I also love working with this press. The staff, the editorial board, the authors . . . it’s amazing to work with intelligent people who have a diverse passion for sharing knowledge.
Political history can be a lot of things. It can be pretty heavy on demographics and analysis; it can constitute pretty traditional biographies. It can dabble in political science or even occasionally look at artistic representations of politics. I wonder if you can talk about the particular corners of the field that interest you.
Each of the corners you mention in this question is interesting and valuable, but my personal interests have always gravitated to the emotional. Or, put differently, I’m interested in why “ordinary” people feel the way they feel about politics and why they, therefore, vote the way they vote. Americans like to believe that they vote on issues, but I think the evidence also suggests that they vote for candidates they can relate to, who make them feel protected, valued, safe, secure. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but since political candidates know this, I find the balance between political campaign marketing and actual behavior, including policy creation, to be a fascinating study not simply of American politics but of human nature more broadly.
Finally, are there particular kinds of books or topics you’d be especially eager to see for the TTU Press book series Politics of the Modern Southwest going forward? Are there books in our recent publishing history that authors should look to as models?
I think the best thing about this series is its openness and breadth, and its flexibility to embrace all types of political scholarship. Our series’ editorial board reflects that as we have scholars on that board who are interested in the “old fashioned” political battles that take place on a House floor or in a “smoke-filled” backroom, just as we have scholars who focus on high-level diplomacy, one political scientist who’s more quantitative in her approach, and myself, who prefers to dabble in the world of political public relations and human psychology. The field is healthiest when it’s open to new ideas and new approaches, so that’s the aim we have for this series.