History major Neilay Shah felt that historians hadn’t given the Luce-Celler Act, which President Harry Truman signed into law in 1946, enough attention. So his thesis, “The Luce-Celler Act of 1946: White Nationalism, Indian Nationalism, and the Cosmopolitan Elite,” focused on different implications of the law, which provided a quota of 100 Filipinos and 100 Indians to immigrate into the United States each year.
“The literature treated the Luce-Celler Act of 1946 as the obvious product of the State Department’s Cold War calculations,” says Shah. “This conclusion, however, just did not match the details of the archive. I wanted to correct this hole in the literature.”
Next up is more school for the aspiring historian. “I am considering pursuing a degree in economic history,” he says. “My experience writing my thesis this year confirmed this ambition for me. I loved the process of researching and writing my thesis, and I look forward to doing many more academic projects in the future.”
How did your thesis advisor help you develop your topic, conduct your research, and/or interpret your results?
My thesis advisor was [Assistant Professor of History] Andrew Friedman. My thesis topic actually grew out of a paper I wrote for his research seminar my sophomore year, so [he was] instrumental in guiding me to this topic. … He helped me think of new places to look for evidence, guided me to be more critical of my evidence, and pushed me to think rigorously and comprehensively about my evidence and the narrative I was creating.
What are the implications for your thesis research?
There are two key implications of my thesis. First, The Luce-Celler Act of 1946 was inspired by Clare Boothe Luce’s fear that the world’s non-white nationalisms would soon become anti-white nationalisms if non-white elites were not given more of the privileges afforded to whites. Clare Boothe Luce supported the act to prevent Indian nationalism from rejecting the institutions and influence of America and Great Britain, a partnership which she imagined to constitute an “Anglo-Saxon Empire.” Second, and more importantly, the Luce-Celler Act of 1946 was hardly an American bill at all. It was really an Indian nationalist bill. J.J. Singh, an Indian nationalist living in the United States, submitted the bill to Emanuel Celler and Clare Boothe Luce’s attention and lobbied for the bill tirelessly. His intention in passing this bill was not to gain the right to become American, but to establish India as an independent nation. Singh used the Luce-Celler Act to secure early international recognition of a secular, united, and independent India. While the British Government obstinately refused to transfer power to the Indian nationalists and refused to recognize the Indian National Congress as a secular political body representative of Indians across religious, caste, and ethnic communities, J.J. Singh pulled the levers of the United States Congress to get such a recognition written into the U.S. legal code.
Photo courtesy of the Harry Truman presidential library.
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of members of the Class of 2014.