The Mosaic vs. the Melting Pot? A Roundtable and Podcast

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American Liberty stirs the Melting Pot. Source:

By Benjamin Bryce

Over the past century, the ‘mosaic’ and the ‘melting pot’ have emerged in North America as concepts to explain Canada and the United States’ relationship with immigration and cultural pluralism. The term mosaic traces its origins to John Murray Gibbon’s 1938 book, Canadian Mosaic, while the melting pot emerged in public consciousness as the result of Israel Zangwill’s 1908 play, The Melting Pot.

The two concepts remain powerful today because they are ideas about history. They contain a belief in collective belonging, upward mobility, and citizenship. The two phrases in fact describe national ideologies that embody how many Canadians and Americans think about integration as well as cultural and linguistic pluralism.

Many Canadians view the melting pot as the opposite of the mosaic and official multiculturalism. However, as the roundtable participants discuss, the two ideologies have much in common and mask many similarities when we examine the everyday realities of cultural pluralism in North America.

In this public roundtable discussion, five historians from the United States and Canada discuss the origins and development of these national myths. Grace Delgado demonstrates the ongoing importance of the melting pot for notions of citizenship. She examines how ideas of national belonging and exclusion are currently mobilized in Arizona. Patricia Burke Wood compares the concepts of the mosaic and melting pot, tying them to today’s multiculturalism. She criticizes the simplicity of the terms while also highlighting their noble idealism.

Russell Kazal examines the inception of the Canadian and American term multiculturalism, tracing it back to ideas of inter-racialism in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Randy Widdis presents the concept of transculturalism as an alternative. David Atkinson sheds light on the origins of the American melting pot, emphasizing its importance in American nation-building. He also discusses the ways that many people, particularly Randolph Bourne, challenged the myth of the melting pot in the early twentieth century.

To listen to the podcast, click here.

To watch a video of the podcast, click here.

This roundtable discussion was part of a SSHRC-funded workshop held at Glendon College in late October 2012.


  • Grace Delgado, Assistant Professor of History, Pennsylvania State University.
  • Patricia Burke Wood, Professor of Geography and Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs, York University.
  • Russell Kazal, Associate Professor of History, University of Toronto
  • Randy Widdis, Professor of Geography, University of Regina.
  • David Atkinson, Assistant Professor of History, Purdue University.


  • Roberto Perin, Professor of History at Glendon College, York University.

Benjamin Bryce is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at York University. He has published articles and book chapters on questions of migration, ethnicity, and language policy in Canada and Argentina.


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