Cultural Gifts: American Liberals and the Origins of Multiculturalism, 1924-1945
Diana Selig

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Claremont McKenna College

Primary Discipline

This book project reconstructs the little-known crusade against prejudice that flourished in the United States after World War I. It argues that as early as the 1920s, pluralist thinking made its way into schools, homes, and churches across the country. Drawing on new developments in social science, progressive educators taught children about the “cultural gifts” that various ethnic, racial, and religious groups brought to the United States. They countered the nativist and racist trends of the era to propose that immigrants made important contributions to the nation. These educators rejected the melting-pot theory of assimilation to suggest that ethnic identity could be compatible with Americanism.The project analyzes the strategies, strengths, and limitations of cultural gifts education. It argues that while cultural gifts succeeded in promoting an inclusive American identity, it was marked by important oversights. In particular, its inability to account for the experience of African Americans, who suffered entrenched forms of discrimination and disfranchisement, limited its effectiveness. By the post-World War II years, cultural gifts had fallen from favor, replaced by new educational approaches to addressing difference and unity in American life. Even so, its legacy has persisted, informing more recent movements for multicultural education and ethnic studies.
About Diana Selig

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