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.
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
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.