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For the week of June 21 through June 27, 2000

What in the world is
the West?

Weigh in with scholars at the Western Issues Conference

Express Staff Writer

If you make your home in the West, you’re past, present and future will be fodder for the nation’s eminent historians and scholars of the American West, who converge here Friday and Saturday for the Sun Valley Center’s Western Issues Conference. And you’re invited.

Some 16 ethnically diverse authors, historians, artists, activists and journalists will rekindle a dialogue on the American West that was started in Sun Valley in the early 1970s when a similar group converged here as part of the Institute of the American West.

"Out of those conferences came what we now know as the new Western history," said Judith Freeman, a local novelist who attended the conferences in the 1970s and is on the steering committee for the Western Issues Conference. "The terrific historians and thinkers that attended went on to write books that changed the way we looked at the West."

The Sun Valley Center hopes its Western Issues Conference, called "A Western Family Reunion," is just as groundbreaking.

Using the metaphor of the family reunion, the conference will look at ways in which class, gender, race, ethnicity, culture, economy and environment have affected the history of the West and of the Wood River Valley in particular.

The conference is structured to allow maximum exposure to the scholars. Panel discussions will follow each lecture. Small group discussions led by the speakers and panelists will enable conference attendees to discuss their own responses to the lectures.

"It’s unusual for an arts organization to present something that offers this much access to so many scholars and to have the public included in the conversation," said Heather Crocker, Sun Valley Center director of education and the director of the conference. "We want it to bridge the gap between the Ivory Tower and what’s really going on in the West."

If there was such a thing as a Western studies think tank, it’s members could be plucked from the Western Issues Conference. Among the participating scholars are Philip Deloria, professor of history at the University of Colorado and author of "Playing Indian"; Patricia Nelson Limerick, also professor of history at the University of Colorado and author of "The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West"; Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, a painter-printmaker who exhibits and lectures internationally; and Vicki Ruiz, chair of Chicano Studies at Arizona State University and author of "From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in 20th Century America." "Women, Native Americans, Chinese and African-Americans were largely left out of the telling of the stories of the West," Freeman said. "Those conferences in the 1970s began to rectify that. A great mixture of thinkers, writers and historians were invited. Instead of having white guys getting together to talk about Western history, we got a much broader representation that included women and minorities."

The Western Issues Conference provides an opportunity to build on that legacy of the earlier conferences.

"There has been a leap forward in consciousness," Freeman said. "The conference is a rich opportunity to bring our minds together, consider the research that has been done and talk about the changes."

Multidisciplinary projects will expand on conference themes. There will be a free reading with author Kim Barnes, who reads from her latest memoir, "Hungry for the World," on Friday; a book signing with author Alvin Josephy, Jr. from his new memoir, "A Walk Toward Oregon" at The Community Library in Ketchum on Sunday at 3 p.m.; a concert with Idaho musician and folk singer Rosalie Sorrels at Elkhorn Resort on Saturday at 8 p.m.; and an ongoing art exhibition at the Sun Valley Center.

The conference is open to the first 200 people who register. In order to attract a diverse group of attendees, the Sun Valley Center is offering tickets on a sliding scale. Tickets prices range from $15 for students, $45 for "citizens," $75 for educators, $150 for professionals to $300 for benefactors. Also, there are volunteer and scholarship opportunities available.

There will also be single day passes available for $20.

For registration information, call the Sun Valley Center at 726-9491.


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