Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Multiculturalism in World History

Multiculturalism in World History

Date : Sat., May 01, 1999 to Sun., May 02, 1999 Category : Butcher History Institute

In today’s America, multiculturalism means several things.  To some, it describes an America already composed today of diverse cultures each with its distinctive social and political profile.  In this sense, multiculturalism is not an ideology, but a fact.  To others, it is an aspiration to replace a Eurocentric or Western America with one in which the political, economic, and social systems give more prominence to those groups that do not identify with European traditions or with the melting-pot vision of America.  To others again, multiculturalism represents an inevitable future, to be desired or feared according to preference, but something that is on its way, as the current European-descended majority becomes a minority.  Finally, a fourth kind of multiculturalism is that which seeks to reconstitute American history to give more account of the contributions and desires of those who were not white, male, and European.

All these senses are important, not least for students and others who, as citizens, will shape America’s future.  However, the debate on multiculturalism in all of the above senses often suffers from a typical American myopia, the tendency to think that America is unique and that nothing that happens here ever happened anywhere else, that there are no relevant experiences to learn from.  Given the political heat often associated with the multiculturalism debate, some reasoned reflection on what the term means, how it is used, and how it applies to other historical situations can be of use to teachers and others who want to integrate what is happening to U.S. society today with the lessons and information available from the past.

Multiculturalism is not a new or unique phenomenon.  Multicultural societies have existed elsewhere with varied success.  In this weekend, we look at four great civilizations all of which have the reputation of having been multicultural.  For all cases, we ask: what does it mean to say that these societies were multicultural?  Were all the participant cultures in fact equal?  Did the multiculturalism work, how long, why, and by what criteria?  Why did these multicultural societies come to an end? We choose four cases which most would agree are leading candidates in world history for the label of successful and long-lasting multicultural civilizations. With this History Institute, FPRI Wachman Fund for International Education will provide some historical and geographical depth to the contemporary American debate. A program specially designed for secondary school teachers, curriculum supervisors, and junior college faculty, the History Institute will provide an intensive weekend of seminars conducted by leading scholars.

Topics and Speakers

Welcoming Remarks

05/01/1999 - 12:50 PM to 1:00 PM

The Many Meanings of Multiculturalism Yesterday & Today

05/01/1999 - 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM
Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

Elonore Raoul Professor of Humanities, Emory University

Hellenistic and Roman Mediterranean Cultures

05/01/1999 - 2:15 PM to 3:15 PM
David Gress

Co-Director - Center for the Study of America and the West

Multiculturalism in Classical Islamic Civilization

05/01/1999 - 3:30 PM to 5:30 PM
Bruce B. Lawrence

Chair of Department of Religion, Duke University

Related Article(s):

Multiculturalism in Classical Islamic Civilization

Keynote: Multiculturalism in World History

05/01/1999 - 7:30 PM
William H. McNeill

Emeritus Professor of History, University of Chicago


05/01/1999 - 8:30 AM to 9:30 AM
June Teufel Dreyer

Professor of Political Science, University of Miami


05/01/1999 - 9:30 AM to 10:30 AM
Stanley Wolpert

Distinguished Professor of South Asian History, UCLA

Panel: Multiculturalism, the Future of American Society, and the Role of Teachers

05/01/1999 - 10:45 AM to 12:00 PM
Harvey Sicherman


Foulie Psalidas-Perlmutter

Senior Fellow

Graduate Center for Organizational Dynamics, University of Pennsylvania

David Gress


Paul Dickler

Senior Fellow - Wachman Center for Civic and International Literacy

Neshaminy High School

Related Article(s):

Multiculturalism in World History

Closing Remarks: The Merits and Perils of Teaching About Other Cultures

05/01/1999 - 12:00 PM to 12:30 PM
Walter A. McDougall

Co-Director of FPRI's History Academy

Alloy-Ansin Professor of International Relations, University of Pennsylvania

Related Article(s):

The Merits and Perils of Teaching About Other Cultures



Gregg Conference Center

270 S. Bryn Mawr Ave.
PA Bryn Mawr 19010

Registration links

Register Deadline

What Participants Receive:

Social studies and history teachers, curriculum supervisors and junior college faculty are invited to apply for participation in the History Institute.  Thirty participants will be selected to receive:

*     free room and board

*     assistance in designing curriculum and special projects based on the  History Institute

*     stipends of $200 in exchange for curriculum units based on the History Institute, plus a representative selection of student work

*     partial travel scholarships available in select cases

*     free copy of David Gress’s From Plato to NATO: The Idea of the West and Its Opponents

To Apply:

Please send a resume and a statement (300-500 words) describing your current teaching or professional assignments, your reasons for wanting to attend, and how your students or school district will benefit from your participation.