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October 26, 1995

There's something for everyone at American studies conference

No family has played a more important role in Pittsburgh's sports history or better reflects its evolution over the past century than the Rooneys.

Beginning with Art Rooney's own playing days on the sandlots of the North Side early in the century, and continuing through his purchase of the Steelers for $3,000 in the early 1930s, the Super Bowl years and finally into the era of professional sports as big business, the Rooney family has shaped the city's athletic life and defined its spirit.

In recognition of the family's role in local sports history, "The Rooneys and Pittsburgh Sports: From Sandlots to the 21st Century" will be among the seminar topics at the American Studies Association (ASA) annual conference, Nov. 9-12, at the Hilton Hotel, Downtown.

Supported in large part by Pitt, the conference will be one of the largest ever for the ASA. According to Deane Root, director of the Stephen Foster Memorial and co-chair of the ASA local arrangements committee, more than 1,500 experts on American studies from around the world are expected to take part.

Among the better known participants will be Steelers President Dan Rooney, former Steelers hall of fame linebacker Andy Russell, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, chairperson of the National Endowment for the Humanities Sheldon Hackney and Braddock filmmaker Tony Buba.

Along with the Rooneys and Pittsburgh sports, topics to be discussed include "Singing Black Pain, Birthing a Blue Nation: Blues Music and the American Century," "The Frontiers of North America," "Remembering Hiroshima and the Holocaust" and "Dance in Modernism." "It's sports, it's television," says Root of the range of seminar topics. "It's ethnic heritage, it's Native American, it's African American, it's European American, it's Asian American, material culture, sexual issues, teaching, migration and immigration, architecture, filmmaking, literature, the Internet, it's music, it's art. It's a fantastic array of topics that influence us all of the time." Most of the seminars will focus on general issues of race, class and gender in America. However, there will be a number of programs of local interest, too, such as "Class, Gender and Race in the Songs of Stephen Foster," "How the African American Press Built a Cross-Class Audience: The Growth of the 'Pittsburgh Courier' Between the World Wars," "Pittsburgh and American Fiction" and "Rivers of Steel, Mountains of Fire: The Pittsburgh Industrial Region's Heritage Area." On the film front, "Kings of the Hill: Baseball's Forgotten Men," a film of the Negro baseball leagues by Rob Ruck, a faculty member in Pitt's history department, will be shown, and WQED filmmaker Rick Sebak will look at "Pittsburgh on Film: WQED and The Pittsburgh History Series." Ruck also will take part in a seminar on "The Cultural Significance of the Negro Baseball Leagues, 1920-1955." Among the participants in that seminar will be "Civil War" and "Baseball" filmmaker Burns.

"The local arrangements have been the results of a lot of cooperation among various universities and individuals in southwestern Pennsylvania," says Root. "It is really a collaborative effort that we've helped to spearhead here at the University of Pittsburgh." Along with Pitt, local organizations and institutions involved with the conference are the Steel Industry Heritage Corp., Carnegie Mellon, the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, Robert Morris, Carlow, Museum Works, Carnegie Museum of Art, the Transportation and Technology Museum, and the Allegheny-Kiski Valley Historical Society.

Special events include a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Irish Famine, which began when a potato blight struck Ireland in 1845 and resulted in millions of Irish immigrating to the United States. The session will feature traditional Irish music, readings of immigrants' memoirs and letters, and other historical presentations by individuals from both Pittsburgh and Ireland.

National Endowment for the Humanities chair Hackney will give the keynote address, "Toward a Common Ground: Pluralism and American Identity." In his address, Hackney will offer his vision of how Americans might build a common identity in an era characterized by the decline of civic nationalism and the rise of ethnic, racial and cultural particularism.

The on-site registration fee for ASA members or international affiliates is $65; the ASA member-student fee is $30. The on-site registration fee for non-ASA members is $90.

The registration desk in the ballroom foyer on the mezzanine level of the Hilton will be open the following hours during the conference: Nov. 9, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., Nov. 10 – 11, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Nov. 12, 8 – 11 a.m. A complete schedule of conference events will be available at the registration desk.

Volunteers also are needed to assist with the conference. Anyone interested in helping should contact Root at the Stephen Foster Memorial at 624-4100 or via e-mail at

–Mike Sajna

Filed under: Feature,Volume 28 Issue 5

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