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The Rise of the Sunbelt South  

Katherine R. Jewell

The term “Sunbelt” connotes a region defined by its environment. “Belt” suggests the broad swath of states from the Atlantic coast, stretching across Texas and Oklahoma, the Southwest, to southern California. “Sun” suggests its temperate—even hot—climate. Yet in contrast to the industrial northeastern and midwestern Rust Belt, or perhaps, “Frost” Belt, the term’s emergence at the end of the 1960s evoked an optimistic, opportunistic brand. Free from snowy winters, with spaces cooled by air conditioners, and Florida’s sandy beaches or California’s surfing beckoning, it is true that more Americans moved to the Sunbelt states in the 1950s and 1960s than to the deindustrializing centers of the North and East. But the term “Sunbelt” also captures an emerging political culture that defies regional boundaries. The term originates more from the diagnosis of this political climate, rather than an environmental one, associated with the new patterns of migration in the mid-20th century. The term defined a new regional identity: politically, economically, in policy, demographically, and socially, as well as environmentally. The Sunbelt received federal money in an unprecedented manner, particularly because of rising Cold War defense spending in research and military bases, and its urban centers grew in patterns unlike those in the old Northeast and Midwest, thanks to the policy innovations wrought by local boosters, business leaders, and politicians, which defined politics associated with the region after the 1970s. Yet from its origin, scholars debate whether the Sunbelt’s emergence reflects a new regional identity, or something else.

Article

San Francisco  

Ocean Howell

San Francisco has a reputation as a liberal city. But history shows that San Francisco’s liberalism must be regarded as evolving, contested, and often internally contradictory. The land that became the city was originally home to the Yelamu people, a small tribe in the Ohlone language group. Spanish missionaries arrived in 1776, but the Spanish empire only had a tenuous hold on the place—it was the furthest outpost of empire. By 1821, when the Mexican government took the land, most of the Native population had perished from disease. Immediately after the Americans took the place, in 1848, gold was discovered in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and the world rushed in. The population increased 2,400 percent in one year, and fewer than half of the new residents had been born anywhere in the United States. Well into the 20th century, elite San Franciscans worried that the rest of the country viewed their city as a barbarous place, full of foreign libertines seeking fortune and pleasure. These narratives masked the extent to which San Francisco’s economy was corporatized from the early days of the Gold Rush. They also present an image of racial liberalism that ultimately must be regarded as a myth. However, there is some truth in the view that the city has been a comparatively tolerant place, where various subcultures could thrive. San Francisco’s status as a bohemian place, a wide-open town, has always sat in tension with its role as a headquarters of global, corporate capital.

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San Jose and “Silicon Valley”  

Glenna Matthews

Since 1988, San Jose has billed itself as the Capital of Silicon Valley. Thirty-five years later, it is the wealthiest city in the country. Despite San Jose’s size and its self-proclaimed title, however, the city remains far less known than its Bay Area sister cities—San Francisco and Oakland—both of which were smaller in population after 1980. Yet the history of San Jose and the metropolitan region deserves to be better known for a multiplicity of reasons. First, in the heart of the Santa Clara Valley, San Jose was the first secular pueblo established by the Spanish in Alta California, in 1777, hence is California’s oldest city. Second, with its Native Californian population, its Hispanic Catholic first settlers, and the diversity of immigrants after the discovery of gold in 1848, San Jose has never been a place of Protestant hegemony. Despite the existence of racism and ethnocentrism, newcomers there encountered a playing field different from much of the country. That the Silicon Valley workforce has had so strong an immigrant profile is perhaps related to the fact that San Jose was born diverse. Finally, San Jose’s political and economic history are important. A small market center for the vast fruit-growing and processing industry in the Valley—as of 1930, there were at least a hundred thousand acres in orchards and dozens of canneries—San Jose began a transformative period of explosive growth during World War II that saw the city’s local economy dramatically change while increasing tenfold in geographical size and twice that in population. Local boosters, in fact, hoped and planned for it to become “the Los Angeles of the North.” Whether that goal was desirable or not, their vision, along with developments at Stanford University and enormous amounts of federal spending on defense, paved the way for the Santa Clara Valley to evolve into “Silicon Valley.”

Article

The Populist Movement in the 19th Century  

Charles Postel

American Populism of the 1880s and 1890s marked the political high-water mark of the social movements of farmers, wage earners, women, and other sectors of society in the years after the Civil War. These movements forged the People’s Party, also known as the Populist Party, which campaigned against corporate power and economic inequality and was one of the most successful third parties in US history. Populist candidates won gubernatorial elections in nine states and gained some forty-five seats in the US Congress, including six seats in the Senate, and in 1892 the Populist presidential candidate, James B. Weaver of Iowa, received over a million votes, more than 8 percent of the total. The Populist Party was not a conventional political party but a coalition of organizations, including the Farmers’ Alliances, the Knights of Labor, and other reform movements, in what the Populists described as a “congress of industrial orders.” These organizations gave the People’s Party its strength and shaped its character as a party of working people with a vision of egalitarian cooperation and solidarity comparable to the labor, farmer-labor, and social-democratic parties in Europe and elsewhere that took shape in the same decades. Despite their egalitarian claims, however, the Populists had at best a mixed attitude towards the struggles for racial equality, and at worst accommodated Indian dispossession, Chinese exclusion, and Jim Crow segregation. In terms of its legacy, veterans of the Populist movement and many of its policy proposals would shape progressive and labor-farmer politics deep into the 20th century, partly by way of the Socialist Party, but mainly by way of the progressive or liberal wings of the Democratic and Republican Parties. At the same time, the adjective “populist” has come to describe a wide variety of political phenomena, including right-wing and nationalist movements, that have no particular connection to the late 19th-century Populism.

Article

US Imperialism, 1898–1914  

Robert McGreevey

U.S. imperialism took a variety of forms in the early 20th century, ranging from colonies in Puerto Rico and the Philippines to protectorates in Cuba, Panama, and other countries in Latin America, and open door policies such as that in China. Formal colonies would be ruled with U.S.-appointed colonial governors and supported by U.S. troops. Protectorates and open door policies promoted business expansion overseas through American oversight of foreign governments and, in the case of threats to economic and strategic interests, the deployment of U.S. marines. In all of these imperial forms, U.S. empire-building both reflected and shaped complex social, cultural, and political histories with ramifications for both foreign nations and America itself.

Article

The US–Mexico War  

Omar Valerio-Jiménez

The United States–Mexico War was the first war in which the United States engaged in a conflict with a foreign nation for the purpose of conquest. It was also the first conflict in which trained soldiers (from West Point) played a large role. The war’s end transformed the United States into a continental nation as it acquired a vast portion of Mexico’s northern territories. In addition to shaping U.S.–Mexico relations into the present, the conflict also led to the forcible incorporation of Mexicans (who became Mexican Americans) as the nation’s first Latinos. Yet, the war has been identified as the nation’s “forgotten war” because few Americans know the causes and consequences of this conflict. Within fifteen years of the war’s end, the conflict faded from popular memory, but it did not disappear, due to the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War. By contrast, the U.S.–Mexico War is prominently remembered in Mexico as having caused the loss of half of the nation’s territory, and as an event that continues to shape Mexico’s relationship with the United States. Official memories (or national histories) of war affect international relations, and also shape how each nation’s population views citizens of other countries. Not surprisingly, there is a stark difference in the ways that American citizens and Mexican citizens remember and forget the war (e.g., Americans refer to the “Mexican American War” or the “U.S.–Mexican War,” for example, while Mexicans identify the conflict as the “War of North American Intervention”).