Irving Berlin’s "God Bless America"

Resource Kit by
Isaac Jacobs-Gomes, Lesley Yalen

Module Content

Introduction

Introduction

As middle and high school students come of age politically in the twenty-first century, many of them may see "God Bless America" as an anthem of American conservatism. They’ll be interested to learn that this wasn’t always the case.

This kit traces Irving Berlin’s patriotic hymn back to its origin as an immigrant’s celebration of his new country, through its evolution into a plea for equality and civil rights, to its standing today as a signifier of white American patriotism. The story of "God Bless America" can add to students’ understanding of the early twentieth-century Jewish context from which Berlin emerged and help them think about how the meaning ascribed to a song or another cultural artifact evolves over time. 

Through these resources, students will also consider how minority and mainstream cultures intersect in America. In thinking deeply about "God Bless America," which was written from a particular Jewish context but for a more universal American audience, students will consider what is lost and what is gained when a minority culture is embraced by (or co-opted into) the dominant American zeitgeist.

Cover image: Songwriter Irving Berlin, circa 1920.