Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




From the inception of the program in 1926, the Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh were viewed as apolitical in their iconography. Their purpose was primarily didactic. Designed as classrooms meant for lectures and seminars, they were however ad-hoc museums for the display of symbols of national identity. In many ways, they constitute an excellent illustration in terms of the decorative arts of Benedict Anderson's concept of "imagined communities."

The identity referent of the symbolism attached to the decorative arrangements of these rooms was not that of the ethnic communities in Pittsburgh, for whom the rooms were supposedly designed to serve as repositories of national traditions. The examination of five of the six earliest classrooms consideredin this dissertation (the Romanian, Hungarian, Yugoslav, Czechoslovak, and Polish Classrooms) reveals that governments overseas saw the Nationality Rooms program as an opportunity to showcase their version of national identity. However, through the sustained efforts of Ruth Crawford Mitchell (1890-1984), who initiated the program, the original designs proposed by architects and artists overseas were adapted to the context of the Cathedral of Learning, with further changes implemented in some cases by committees set up by ethnic communities. Soon after their inauguration, some rooms rapidly turned into national shrines, as the "imagined communities" they represented were confronted with occupation and mayhem brought by World War II. Others became loci for redefinition of the identities of ethnic communities in Pittsburgh and America, especially in cases when the countries represented in the classrooms were atwar with the United States. Hence the design of the Nationality Classrooms is inextricably linked to the idea of "imagined communities" as museumshowcases.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access