Routes to Roots: Searching for the Streetlife of Memory

Doris J. Dyen. “Routes to Roots: Searching for the Streetlife of Memory.” Journal of American Folklore 119.471 (2006) 19-29


Routes to Roots: Searching for the Streetlife of Memory looks at the challenge of creating a driving guide whose aim is to enable visitors to discover and experience the folklife of a region previously unused by visitors, a region whose folklife, while vital and significant, is now often invisible even to residents’ eyes. The driving guide’s primary purpose was to encourage community revitalization through cultural tourism, but it evolved beyond that into a way of telling the region’s industrial story though its folklife sites, events, and activities. The author explores how members of the interdisciplinary project team influenced each other as the project progressed through the stages of conception, research, and design and how the resulting travel guide both fulfilled and reinterpreted the project’s original mission.


Imagine a place where all your senses are engaged:


Throngs flowing by in patterned embroidered clothing, storefronts opening into oddly shaped spaces with the sound of strident voices haggling over wares that you can’t readily identify, street vendors selling exotic foods you can’t name—dried fish, cubes on a stick, brightly colored strings of vegetables, steaming kettles of soups and stews. Sides of meat and chickens hang upside down from a pole across the top of the stall in an outdoor market, pungent smells of cooking emanate from narrow alleys and wisps of high-pitched song or strange instrumental melodies waft out of doorways. Stately, ornate churches with glistening sculpture and beautifully crafted railings and fittings of marble, wood, and brass—spacious, sweet-smelling, dimly lit places to slip into for a quiet breath and a few minutes of meditation or wonder. And always there are people—on street corners and in small shops, walking arm in arm, talking excitedly in unfamiliar languages, threading their way nimbly through crowded thoroughfares on bicycles or sweating as they pull heavy handcarts laden with produce along the curb. Old people sitting and rocking on their front stoops as the world passes by, young people giggling and teasing [End Page 19] each other on their way from school. Women, pushing the hair out of their eyes as they maneuver their lumpy packages and toddlers out of shops or gliding straight and serene down the avenue in their best hats. Men, hurrying toward the streetcar with eyes on their watches, or joking and jostling each other as they stride out of the smoky mill or acrid rail-yard in their overalls toward the beckoning taverns, their empty lunch-pails swinging in their hands, free at last until tomorrow at dawn.

I wrote “Streetlife” early one morning as our project team was in the second year of developing the Routes to Roots driving guide (2004). We were grappling with the question: How can we make our region accessible and understandable to an outsider or newcomer when directions to places are so often given as “Go down almost to where the Leona Theater used to be. Then make a right up the hill to St. Mary Magdalene Church—well, I guess they call it St. Maximilian Kolbe parish now.” Although “Streetlife” is a fictional piece, we know from interviews and from historical photos that this is much the way longtime residents of southwestern Pennsylvania experienced and still remember how their communities were sixty to seventy years ago. But things have changed. The folklife that used to be intense, concentrated, and public is now low-key, dispersed, and, above all, private. Our region still has its ethnic, religious, and occupational traditions, but an outsider cannot readily see, hear, or smell them. A trained eye can spot the Slovak club sign on a building’s upper floor or seek out the grocery store a block off the main street where they make sausage by hand and serve duck’s-blood soup. But where are the clothing, the cooking, the music, the languages, the streets lined with noisy bars, the processions?

Churches and ethnic clubs still offer opportunities to glimpse traditions in action, but these are inward-looking places now, with limited hours or “by appointment only.” There are still thriving ethnic neighborhoods in Pittsburgh—Squirrel Hill, Bloomfield, Hill District, Strip District, Homewood—but fewer than before. Families continue their customs and pass down traditional arts, skills, and values—but mostly away from public view. Steel is still being made, and factories still change shifts—but now a hundred men and women walk out of the gate, get into their cars, and go home. At rush hour, trails of cars snake slowly along the highway with drivers talking on cell phones. Industrial towns are sedate—few people walk anywhere these days. People sit in their backyards or their air-conditioned family rooms in the summer instead of on their front stoops. In place of immersion in daily folklife, we now have heritage museums, restored buildings, and neighborhood historic districts that mark where daily folk culture used to live. We have festivals and special holiday events and new commercial developments, such as malls and the Homestead Waterfront, which recall—for a few hours—the streetlife of memory.

Conceiving the Driving Guide

When the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area was created in 1996, one of its primary objectives was to promote cultural tourism as a way of encouraging the revitalization of the Pittsburgh area of southwestern Pennsylvania, a region hit hard by the collapse of the steel industry that had made it world renowned. We started in [End Page 20] 1998 by developing guided tours and training local people who had grown up in the industrial towns to use their own memories to interpret their communities for visitors in a way we hoped would be both authentic and appropriate: it had to “ring true.”

But the question became “Authentic and appropriate through whose eyes?” Folklorists have spent more than twenty years addressing the theoretical implications of what these words mean and who defines them. Much of this work has focused on what Dean MacCannell calls “staged authenticity”— that is, public presentations of aspects of daily folklife in settings (e.g., festivals and museums) far removed from the contexts in which those activities would normally occur (1976). In these settings, both the viewer of the presentation and the person being viewed are operating and interacting outside of their habitual environments. The idea of such a presentation is to create a simulation of reality for both. The folklorist’s job in this presentation is to “interpret” it—that is, to fill in contextual blanks for viewers—and, at the same time, make the viewees as comfortable and unselfconscious as possible in what is an inherently unreal situation. Folklorists such as Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (1988) and Shalom Staub (1988) have wrestled with the question of where the quality of authenticity might lie in such a contrived presentation, no matter how carefully and thoughtfully it may be structured.

For the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area project, we quickly found that the kind of heritage tourism we sought to develop was not a single-focus, externally determined, presentation of authenticity. Our goal was to take visitors into the actual contexts of folklife in the region, not recreate those contexts on a stage. The cultural encounters we wanted to facilitate involved a continual and multifaceted negotiation of what was authentic and appropriate, between local and visitor, between insider and outsider, and, at any one moment, between specific insiders and specific outsiders. Our “interpreters” were not folklorists but residents of the region. We trained them as docents but encouraged them to formulate their own tour narratives—that is, to tell the region’s industrial heritage story on the basis of their personal experiences of life in the region.

The result was a mixture of experiences for both insiders and outsiders. On the guided bus tours into the region, for example, one of our steelworker-docent’s evocative memories of the J&L Pittsburgh Works enabled his tour groups to envision the silent, vacant land they were passing through as the throbbing mill site it had once been, whereas another docent at that same point in the tour focused on statistics about the loss of jobs in the region due to deindustrialization, leaving his tour groups informed, but less engaged. On the other hand, all the docents expressed discomfort at taking outsiders past the historic but now-ramshackle worker housing along streets in Braddock nearest the (still-operating) U.S. Steel mill, because it felt neither authentic nor appropriate to them. They often made comments such as “This isn’t how it was when we grew up—we were proud of our homes. They were small, but we took care of them; we scrubbed the soot off the porch and washed the sidewalk down every week. We don’t want people to think we lived like this.” Almost every tour group included at least one visitor who insisted on asking the docent detailed questions about steel technology. And all the groups enjoyed many multisensory activities included [End Page 21] in the tours, including eating lunch at the Bulgarian Club with a choice of soups from several regions of Bulgaria, for example, or participating in oral history “story circles” to share and record their own memories.

Although the docent-led tours achieved a kind of following, we soon realized that tours alone would not allow us to develop heritage tourism in the entire seven-county region as comprised in the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. Large tour groups can visit only a small number of places at any one time; for the general public, bus or boat tours work best if they are kept short, three hours or less—which means only traveling a short distance from downtown Pittsburgh, the region’s population center—and many people prefer the flexibility of traveling in smaller family units, where they can make their own schedules and meet local people one-on-one.

The logical next step was to give visitors a way to discover the region’s cultural heritage on their own terms: a folklife driving guide, which we undertook in 2001. We thought that creating a driving guide about southwestern Pennsylvania’s folklife would be a straightforward task: simply put together a list of places with a description of what one might see there. The years of planning for the Heritage Area had included documenting numerous sites, events, and activities that resulted in hundreds of hours of recorded interviews and thousands of photos. We had built a network of contacts with tradition bearers throughout the seven-county region through folk arts apprenticeships, school programs, and ongoing involvement with local folk-cultural ethnic and occupational organizations. But we learned that developing an effective self-guided touring tool, one that takes people to out-of-the-way places with no local resident assigned to smooth their path and mediate their experience, was a completely different kind of challenge. The driving guide we actually produced was quite different from the one we thought we would create.

Our Models

Because the Heritage Area covers more than two thousand square miles and road travel can be difficult, we knew that we would need to conceive the driving guide as a collection of touring options, rather than as a single, unified experience. We looked at other successful cultural heritage driving guides for models. The Michelin guidebooks had a good size and feel—able to fit easily into an automobile glove compartment. The Doers and Dreamers driving guide to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton in Canada offered an attractive mix of historical sites and living cultural traditions. Hunts’ Guide to Western Michigan pointed visitors to interesting, out-of-the-way places with an engaging writing style. One guidebook that seemed particularly promising for our purpose was The Craft Heritage Trails of Western North Carolina, written by Jay Fields and Brad Campbell for Asheville-based HandMade in America. It focuses on a region historically known for its rich heritage of folk and art craft of all kinds. The book is well constructed to fulfill its mission of convincing some of the millions of tourists who travel the Blue Ridge Parkway each year to get off the main road and visit—and spend money in—the region’s small towns. Through a series of color-coded driving routes, the guidebook points visitors to home studios, where they can see craft workers in action, and to shops and galleries, where they can purchase [End Page 22] locally made craftware. It includes sidebars about folkways and tradition bearers in that part of North Carolina, along with helpful hints to make a traveler’s visit as comfortable and carefree as possible. Our staff went to Asheville to learn more about how Craft Heritage Trails had been developed. After spending two days traveling the trails with HandMade’s staff, we realized some similarities between their region and ours. Both regions have a single large city—Pittsburgh and Asheville—surrounded by numerous smaller towns, many of them quite rural. Both regions have hilly Appalachian topography. Both regions include some of the same cultural groups: Scots-Irish, African American, and Native American.

But the differences are even more pronounced. Geographically, western North Carolina has a single highway that serves as that region’s clearly defined spine, with Asheville near its midpoint, whereas southwestern Pennsylvania is configured as a hub and spokes, with Pittsburgh at the center of a confusing array of roads. In our region, there is often no direct way to get from here to there, and, unlike western North Carolina, southwestern Pennsylvania’s small towns are of several types, some related to the region’s agricultural past and others to its industrial past. In a way, western North Carolina shows what southwestern Pennsylvania might have been like had the steel industrial boom never occurred; but, because of its industrial era, southwestern Pennsylvania is economically and socially more complex and multilayered than western North Carolina, and its cultural milieu is far more heterogeneous, including groups from eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America in the mix. Whereas southwestern Pennsylvania has crafts and craft workers, they do not dominate the region’s expressive culture; in fact, no one form of expression is paramount here.

Also important for developing self-guided tourism, western North Carolina is already considered to be very desirable as a destination for outsiders. Southwestern Pennsylvania, by contrast, does not think of itself as a tourist destination at all. Western North Carolina has both a world-renowned “visitor attraction” in the famous Biltmore estate and a heavily traveled scenic corridor in the Blue Ridge Parkway. Most of southwestern Pennsylvania’s forebears went there to work in the coal mines, coke plants, rolling mills, foundries, forges, riverboats, and other steel-related jobs. Though proud of their heritage and not averse to the idea of tourism, many of their descendants still view “real work” as jobs that result in tangible products. Their collective attitude toward outsiders is “Why would anyone want to come here?”

Assessing all of these factors, we concluded that southwestern Pennsylvania’s greatest tourism asset lay not in products or established attractions, but in the story of its people—the saga of the intertwining of ethnic cultures with industry over generations. Our driving guide would therefore have to acquaint visitors with the region, not by selling the region’s wares, but by telling the region’s story through its sites, events, and activities.

Setting and Story

The southwestern corner of Pennsylvania is a scenic region—rolling land in the foothills of the Appalachians intersected by three major rivers, three tributary streams, and numerous smaller creeks and “runs.” The city of Pittsburgh and the steel towns [End Page 23] all along the rivers have had a long history of vibrant ethnic neighborhoods, many of which grew up in the shadow of the fiery mills that dominated residents’ lives. The small coal and coke “patches” tucked away in the rural countryside inland from the rivers were often company-built and grew up around mine portals or ranks of coking ovens that produced fuel for the mills.

Throughout the nineteenth century, both in the region’s early agricultural years and during its intensive industrialization that began mid-century, these communities recognized their interdependence. Few people owned wagons or cars, and roads were poor to nonexistent. The rivers served as the region’s first “highways.” Later, the huge industrial corporations built miles of railways, interurban track, and trolley or “streetcar” lines, linking not only their plants with sources of raw materials and fuel but also the towns with each other and the people within them.

For many in the working towns, life was hard and short. Women married young and were often widowed at early ages; they often increased their incomes by running boardinghouses or doing textile work. Women had many opportunities to meet each other as they went about their domestic chores in the community. Even through the first half of the twentieth century, workers’ homes often had no running water, so women could exchange news as they drew water from the communal pump or washed their families’ laundry outside in the rowhouse courtyards on a hot summer day. Children rarely had opportunities for formal education. It was not uncommon for boys to follow their fathers and uncles into the local mine or mill as soon as they reached their teens. In the workplace, men developed lifelong friendships through the camaraderie with their work gangs and shift mates; the work was so dangerous that a man’s survival often depended on the skill, quick-wittedness, and watchful eyes of his shift mates. Workers often regarded their fellow workers as their second families.

At one time, residents in these towns lived life “within a block.” They walked to work, walked to church, and walked to fraternal club events. Worship services were held in the language of the congregants—everyone knew which was the “German church,” the “Polish church,” the “Romanian shul.” Most ethnic groups founded beneficial societies, gymnastic clubs, and credit unions that both helped their members adapt to American life and provided a way to maintain a sense of community where they could practice the Old Country customs, sing the songs, dance the dances, and enjoy the foods. The sense of community was always being reinforced as people went from place to place. Even traveling by streetcar had its communal code: people always took a transfer slip even if they did not need one; when they got off at their stop, they placed the transfer into an agreed-upon slot—sometimes a crevice in a telephone pole or a crack in a nearby wall—so that someone else, perhaps someone less fortunate, could be helped on his or her way.

All this began to change after World War II. Personal automobiles gradually replaced the city streetcars and interurban trains as the preferred mode of travel in the region, which facilitated the growth of suburbs. The culture of the once tightly knit mill towns became fragmented and dispersed, as second-generation working families moved away from the old riverfront “wards” near the mills to enjoy the cleaner air and the quiet in their own detached brick homes in the newer developments, surrounded [End Page 24] by grass and neat fences—to live the “American dream.” The regional economy began to diversify and members of new ethnic groups came from Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere for education and for jobs in medical research and high technology.

Over the next few decades, changes in the world economy meant that the Pittsburgh region’s preeminence in steel production began to wane. One by one, the major mills and mines closed, dislocating the region’s working population and further weakening the industrial communities. In 2005, although steel is still produced in the region and coal is still mined and baked into coke, the remaining operations have become increasingly centralized and mechanized, requiring fewer and fewer workers. The acres of empty “brownfields” abandoned by industry are slowly being redeveloped for new commercial retail and residential uses that no longer speak of industry.

Designing the Driving Guide

Could we create a driving guide that would lead visitors and younger residents through the area as it exists now, in a way that would help them understand the region’s industrial and cultural heritage? Could we do this in a way that local residents would perceive as appropriate? How willingly would local people let outsiders in to experience the region’s folk culture as it is lived in the present?

The title Routes to Roots (whose rhyming alliteration works best if you hail from east of the Allegheny Mountains) reflects the guide’s division of the region into five color-coded driving routes, each named for the main river(s) around which it is organized. It also speaks to the idea of searching for the roots of the region’s culture. The driving guide has two formats: a print version designed to be taken along in the traveler’s car and an online version designed to help people plan trips, providing virtual access to the region. The guide allows a reader to experience the region either directly or indirectly, but the experience is fullest for those who visit in person.

At first, we saw Routes to Roots as two separate story lines: the occupational and the cultural. We flirted briefly with the idea of producing the print version as a double-fronted book, in which the industrial story with its related sites would read from one direction toward the middle and then, turning the book over, the ethnic story with its related sites would read from the other side. We quickly realized, however, that we had to integrate the two halves of the story, so the book would both reflect the region’s actual evolution and be usable for the traveler. The online version integrated the two story lines from the start.

In its final form, the driving guide’s narrative has several dimensions that include the overall story of the region’s intertwined ethnic and industrial heritage, the smaller stories of individual sites as they relate to the larger theme, the heritage profiles that trace the history of individual ethnic groups and industries through time and space in the region, the sidebar interviews with tradition bearers, and “by-the-way” facts that add interpretive intimacy, immediacy, and personal involvement to the telling.

Each site has its own story, often based on a first-person interview with a tradition bearer connected with the place. Many sites are also the settings for community-based [End Page 25] folklife events, and the visitor is directed to these through a symbol at the site write-up and through the calendar at the end of each route. Small itineraries are suggested, with site-to-site directions, that offer manageable half-day or full-day trips to experience slices of life in the region. The book has an extensive subject index that encourages potential visitors to map out their own driving trips or journeys of the mind—in essence, to narrate their personal version of the region’s story.

The guide works for the user in several ways. The most straightforward way is to follow one or more of the suggested itineraries, but it is also possible for someone just to read the book straight through, as the social and cultural history of a region, without ever leaving home. A third option is to use the index to follow a particular narrative thread through the book, for example, Croatian traditions, labor struggles, or railroading, in a multisensory fashion, by reading the specific profiles and site write-ups relating to that thread and then following up with a visit to those sites and events firsthand. Yet another possibility is to visit a series of desired sites virtually by logging onto the online version of the guide, which clusters the sites through a menu of broad subjects (e.g., “Folklife,” “Industry”) corresponding to the subject symbols in the book. The online version enables the user to not only read the story and see the photos, but also, in some cases, watch short video clips of folklife events that help enhance the story. Always mindful of our “streetlife of memory” dilemma, we constantly asked ourselves two questions as we developed the guide: “Where can a visitor find the most authentic presentation of traditional culture?” and “Where can a visitor have the most satisfying experience of this traditional culture?”

Developing the driving guide required us to deal with the questions of authenticity and appropriateness in ways different from the docent-led tours. The perception of authenticity is not static or universal, but changes over time and space and depends on each individual’s perspective and previous interactions with others. Staub has pointed out that authenticity is essentially an outsider term: “The quality of authenticity is invested in the experiences, practices, and activities of people socially distant from ourselves. The greater the social distance, the more we commonly attribute the image of a pure, authentic culture. . . . Conversely, the familiar cultural landscape of contemporary American urban and suburban experience does not carry the same mystique” (1988:172–3). Tourists usually arrive with their own preconceptions of what a place “should be” before they can consider it authentic, but local residents in Charleroi, for example, cross easily between grabbing a quick burger with the kids at McDonald’s on a weekday evening and taking them to services on Sunday morning at Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church, with its arresting floor-to-ceiling icons painted by local iconographers. Which is the truer representation of life in that community—the meal at McDonald’s or the mass at Holy Ghost? Tourists might wish only to focus on the more “exotic” religious practice, but “authentic Charleroi” is actually the combination of these experiences. So we decided it would be acceptable if our planned route took visitors past a strip mall or a metal scrap yard on their way into town to see the icons.

As the folklorist on the team, I was concerned that visitors have the opportunity to experience the “real thing,” not a re-creation, reenactment, or “Disney-fication.” My graduate training as an ethnomusicologist and my twenty-plus years of work in [End Page 26] public folklife programming have led me to privilege the insider’s perspective. To me there were two important objectives for the driving guide. One stemmed from my academic research background: to make sure visitors came away understanding what was really going on in these communities, regardless of whether they enjoyed the encounter. The other objective related to what I see as the underlying principle of applied folklife: to work with the public for some common good, in this case, making sure community members were at ease having visitors enter their private world and that the communities would derive some benefit from those visits. In summary, I was more concerned about how tourists would affect the communities than how the tourists themselves would feel during the encounter.

Jan Dofner, a coworker on the project team and our communications director at Rivers of Steel, was the one most likely to caution that the site experience needed to be reliably accessible, consistent in quality, and safe and comfortable for the visitor. Her background was quite different from mine: after beginning her career as a grade-school teacher, she began to work as a tour guide for museums and then as a staff member of a regional tourism bureau. After all, our purpose in developing heritage tourism was to benefit the communities financially, which meant that visitors had to enjoy the experience enough to tell others about it and to return to the region themselves.

As we continued working on the driving guide, I began to ask more often, “Is this site really ready for visitors?” I began to see that the concept of “common good” had to include the visitor’s—the outsider’s—needs for the entire enterprise to work. And Jan started to ask more frequently, “Is the visitor experience at this site authentic?” She was starting to appreciate and value the richness and deeper satisfaction that visitors could gain from engaging directly with insiders who “walk the walk” on their own turf, where the folklife activities really happen. She began to appreciate my concerns about the insiders’ perceptions of the project.

For one thing, we had already learned that there are many kinds of visitors—each searching for a different sort of experience, arising from differences in physical agility, time constraints, age, gender, family obligations, and circumstances of their own daily lives back home. Some are fascinated by the technical details of industrial processes, whereas others want to shop for handmade souvenirs, and still others just want to get the feel of a place. As we considered which sites to include in the driving guide, we tried to visualize various readers and imagine how they would want to use it. An unmarried male folklorist in his early thirties might think nothing of driving an hour and a half to a small coal patch to find a polka dance in an out-of-the-way ethnic hall. But what about a female office worker in her late forties who is traveling with her husband and two preteen sons? Or an older couple who cannot walk far and do not like to drive at night? What would be most enjoyable for each of them? We decided we needed to include a variety of activities that would allow visitors to encounter local culture to the degree they wish to and are able to, and at the same time offer activities that would leave them feeling satisfied that they had really experienced the region. We needed to provide clear, user-tested directions to hard-to-find places. We needed to warn visitors to “phone ahead” to avoid disappointment—and we needed to talk frankly with residents at each site to assess their interest in having visitors.

The project team’s deliberations over Routes to Roots can be viewed as an extension [End Page 27] and refinement of the open-ended process of “negotiated authenticity” that infused the development of Rivers of Steel’s docent-led tours, a process formulated through practical necessity and that I named only in retrospect. In the end, the team agreed to eliminate some folklorically desirable sites and events from inclusion in the driving guide because those places were unable to accommodate outsiders—that is, the activity seemed too private and/or fragile, the site did not keep reliable hours, the staff’s manner toward visitors was disinterested or unfriendly, or the site was too difficult to reach or had safety issues. We left out other sites and events because, although they were happy to have visitors, to borrow from Gertrude Stein, there simply was not “enough ‘there’ there” to contribute to the region’s story—they seemed watered down or downright fake.

Our designers and writers played a crucial role. Libby Boyarski, Joan Guerin, and Barb Klein kept insisting on “going the extra mile” (literally!) to find and experience for themselves— to make it possible for future travelers to experience—those extra bits of sensory richness that could be included in the guide: For example, they took video clips of square dancing at the Armstrong League of Arts and glass blowing at Youghiogheny Glass, obtained a usable photo of Tina Brewer’s African-American quilt, searched out and printed the pierogi recipe used at St. John the Baptist’s weekly kitchen, interviewed the firemen in Greensburg, met with local residents to record “insider’s walking tours” of Brownsville and Squirrel Hill, and contacted the National Park Service for an accurate, full-color diagram of how an iron furnace works.

With the design team’s guidance, we consciously attempted to present the printed and online versions of the driving guide in the most attractive, eye-catching color possible—to engage the senses as much as we could right from the start. In answer to the skeptical “Why would anyone choose to come here?” we wanted both the book and the website to exemplify the region’s pride in its heritage, to say, “This guide shows why visitors should come: our region is beautiful, our story is powerful, and our people have an important experience to share with the world.”

The Routes to Roots book was published in 2004; the online version was completed in 2005. In its final form, the driving guide offers dedicated travelers the chance to see, hear, taste, smell, and move within the region’s traditional culture. All of the sites, events, and activities included contribute to the telling of the region’s story, combining vivid personal memories related by those who have lived the industrial and postindustrial ethnic experience with site visits off-the-beaten-path to where “real stuff” took place or still occurs. There are opportunities to attend services at a Croatian church whose murals interweave the local community’s ethnic, religious, and industrial heritage; learn Slovenian dancing in the SNPJ Boro, a town started by Slovenian fraternal clubs in the region to give people of Slovenian descent a place to perpetuate and practice their cultural traditions; and eat at an Italian restaurant started by three laid-off steelworker brothers using their immigrant mother’s recipes. Visitors can drive through a town built by displaced coal and coke workers during the Great Depression under the auspices of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and pay respects at the monument to martyred labor organizer Fannie Sellins. [End Page 28]


In the end, we realized that the task of Routes to Roots was to accept and help both visitors and local communities work with the region’s “new reality” of cultural dispersion. The book and website together encourage travelers to experience for themselves the region’s industrial/ethnic story by giving them a tool with which to engage their senses as they move from place to place in the region. With this folklife driving guide, the goal was not to re-create the “streetlife of memory,” but to allow a visitor to comprehend the region’s traditional culture as it has evolved into the present. Instead of being immersed immediately in the concentration of sensory input that happens in conventional cultural tourism, the traveler here must do the work of connecting the dots, seeking the out-of-the-way places and encountering the region’s mixture of exotic and mundane. In doing so, the visit then becomes a kind of treasure hunt that yields its own special reward—the satisfaction of discovery.

Imagine a means of engaging all your senses as you visit this place . . .

Doris J. Dyen is Director of Cultural Conservation for Steel Industry Heritage Corporation, which coordinates the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area in the seven-county Pittsburgh region of southwestern Pennsylvania. A public sector folklorist for more than twenty-four years, she administers cultural conservation and education activities, addresses regional cultural heritage policy issues, and advises and assists local communities and tradition-bearers in folklife programming. Dyen holds a doctorate in ethnomusicology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She was both the coordinator and a contributing writer for the Routes to Roots project.

References Cited and Selected Bibliography

Fields, Jay, and Brad Campbell. 1998. The Craft Heritage Trails of Western North Carolina, 2nd ed. Asheville, N.C.: HandMade in America.

Hunt, Mary, and Don Hunt. 1990. Hunts’ Guide to West Michigan. Waterloo, Mich.: Midwestern Guides.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. 1988. Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage. Berkeley: University of California Press.

MacCannell, Dean. 1976. The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Schocken.

Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage. Nova Scotia Doers & Dreamers Travel Guide., accessed June 22, 2005.

Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. 2004. Routes to Roots: A Driving Guide. Doris J. Dyen, project director. Homestead, Penn.: Steel Industry Heritage Corporation.

Staub, Shalom. 1994. Cultural Conservation and Economic Recovery Planning: The Pennsylvania Heritage Parks Program. In Conserving Culture, ed. Mary Hufford, pp. 229–44. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

———. 1988. Folklore and Authenticity. In The Conservation of Culture: Folklorists and the Public Sector, ed. Burt Feintuch, pp. 166–79. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

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