Sean P. Cunningham
Office: 131 Holden Hall
Ph.D., University of Florida
Sean P. Cunningham is Professor of History and Associate Dean for Administrative Affairs
for the College of Arts & Sciences. From 2014 to 2023, he served as Chair of the Department
of History. He teaches broadly in twentieth-century U.S. history, while specializing
in the history of modern American political culture. His geographic emphasis is on
the Sunbelt, Texas in particular.
Cunningham has authored three books: Bootstrap Liberalism: Texas Political Culture in the Age of FDR (University Press of Kansas, 2022); American Politics in the Postwar Sunbelt: Conservative Growth in a Battleground Region (Cambridge University Press, 2014); and Cowboy Conservatism: Texas and the Rise of the Modern Right (University Press of Kentucky, 2010), which won the Texas Tech University President's Book Award (first place) in 2012.
In addition to his responsibilities as a university administrator, Cunningham serves on the Board of Directors for Humanities Texas – the state's affiliate to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) – as well as the Historical Advisory Board at TX4T, a non-profit organization that provides social studies teachers and students in K-12 schools with access to evidence-based historical content and best-practices pedagogy resources related to the teaching of Texas history.
At Texas Tech, he recently assisted with the curation of the Texas Tech Museum's Centennial Celebration exhibit on the history of Texas Tech athletics, and also co-edited the university's official centennial celebration book, 100 Years, 100 Voices. He has also served as a "Chair Mentor" for the university's National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE Grant, is Chair of the Editorial Board for Texas Tech University Press, was a member of the Provost's Faculty Success Task Force and Advisory Committee (2017-22), is Title IX Liaison for Academic Affairs, and, from 2018 to 2021, helped coordinate a program known as "Civil Counterpoints" - a campus conversation series designed to model and stimulate thoughtful, professional, and respectful dialogue on volatile issues of contemporary interest.
Cunningham is also a decorated teacher. In 2021, he received the university's "Integrated Scholar Award" in recognition of "faculty who dedicate themselves to a course of lifelong learning and advance Texas Tech's role in educating, serving, and inspiring others to do the same." In 2020, he was elected to membership in the university's prestigious Teaching Academy. Additionally, Cunningham has won the President's Excellence in Teaching Award (2013), the Professing Excellence Award, presented by University Student Housing (2012), the Department of History's Distinguished Faculty Award (2010 and 2008), and was named the College of Arts & Sciences winner of the Texas Tech Alumni Association's New Faculty Award (2010). He is also a two-time winner of the Mortar Board "Apple Polishing Award"(2008 and 2023). Finally, before joining Texas Tech's faculty in 2007, Cunningham was awarded the Calvin A. VanderWerf Award in recognition of his selection as the outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Florida, where he earned his Ph.D.
Prior to his graduate work in Gainesville, Cunningham completed his B.A. in Public Relations from Texas Tech University in 1999, before earning his M.A. in History and his M.Ed. in Higher Education, also at Texas Tech, in 2002.
Bootstrap Liberalism: Texas Political Culture in the Age of FDR
Has Texas always been one of the United States' most conservative states? The answer
might surprise you. Bootstrap Liberalism offers a glimpse into the world of Depression-era Texas politics, revealing a partisan
culture that was often far more ideologically nuanced and complex than meets the eye.
The Lone Star State is often viewed as a bastion of conservative politics and rugged “bootstrap” individualism, but that narrative overlooks the fact that FDR's New Deal was quite popular in Texas, much more so than previous histories of the era have suggested. While it is true that many Texas Democrats remained staunchly conservative during Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency, and it is also true that many of these conservatives formed the basis of an established majority that would grow stronger in the decades that followed, it is simultaneously true that ordinary voters—and a good many politicians—embraced New Deal policies, federal experimentation, and direct economic aid, and often did so enthusiastically as liberal Texas Democrats rode FDR's coattails to electoral success.
Texas political leaders recognized the popularity of the New Deal and identified themselves with FDR for their own political advantage. Using original resources mined from six research archives, Bootstrap Liberalism explores campaign strategies and policy debates as they unfolded at the local, state, and national levels throughout the Great Depression and World War II eras, revealing a consistent brand of pro-New Deal messaging that won favor with voters across the state. Most Texas Democrats did not apologize for supporting FDR. Rather, they celebrated him and often marketed themselves as New Deal Democrats. Voters endorsed that strategy by electing liberals throughout the 1930s and early 1940s.
American Politics in the Postwar Sunbelt: Conservative Growth in a Battleground Region
This book analyzes the political culture of the American Sunbelt since the end of
World War II. It highlights and explains the Sunbelt's emergence during the second
half of the twentieth century as the undisputed geographic epicenter for conservative
Republican power in the United States.
The book also investigates the ongoing nature of political contestation within the postwar Sunbelt, highlighting the underappreciated persistence of liberal and progressive influences across the region. Cunningham argues that the conservative Republican ascendancy that so many have identified as almost synonymous with the rise of the postwar American Sunbelt was hardly an easy, unobstructed victory march. Rather, it was consistently challenged and never foreordained. The history of American politics in the postwar Sunbelt resembles a rollercoaster of partisan and ideological adaptation and transformation.
Cowboy Conservatism: Texas and the Rise of the Modern Right
This book explores the major moments, issues, personalities, and creative forces that
coalesced during the 1960s and 1970s to reshape the political landscape and culture
of Texas, thereby transforming the Lone Star State into the nation's most powerful
Utilizing extensive research drawn from the archives of four presidential libraries, gubernatorial papers, local campaign offices, and oral histories, Cunningham reveals a vivid portrait of modern conservatism in one of the nation's largest and most politically powerful states.