Research

Research and Publications

So far, I have published one book and co-edited a second.  The Johns Hopkins University Press did a beautiful job of cover design for both volumes, and I am pleased to display them here.


The Amish on the Iowa Prairie is my first book.  The research began in 1985 and resulted in an MA thesis completed in 1987.  Building on the MA, I completed a Ph.D. dissertation in 1993.  This book was published by Johns Hopkins in 2000.

Strangers at Home resulted from a conference in 1995 in Millersville, Pennsylvania, called Quiet in the Land?  Amish and Mennonite Women in History.  I co-chaired the planning committee and edited many of the papers presented at the conference into this book.  It was published in 2002.


My next project is situated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in the New Deal era.  I am researching this project with a colleague, Katherine Jellison, associate professor of history at Ohio University.  We compare several ethnic groups–Old Order Amish, Old Order Mennonites, Brethren, and others–in relation to rural consumer culture and gender.

We are constructing a quantitative framework from the 1920 federal census, late-1920s state farm censuses, a federal consumer expenditure survey taken in 1935-1936, and a Department of Agriculture community study of the Amish published in 1942. Qualitative sources–newspapers, correspondence, memoirs and diaries, church records, oral interviews, and government records at the county, state, and federal level–will interpret and flesh out this framework. We plan to construct a comparative history of women in Lancaster County that will range from Old Order Amish to mainstream Protestant communities, including Mennonite, Church of the Brethren, Pennsylvania Dutch Reformed and Lutheran, and other groups. One aspect of this larger study is rural consumer culture.

The development of a consumer culture is a central feature of twentieth-century American history, but its history in rural regions is not well understood. Rural encounters with consumer culture have typically been portrayed in terms of the increasing dominance of the city and the convergence of urban and rural society. The filtering of consumerism through ethnicity and gender and the persistence of cultures that resisted new goods and new technologies are areas needing additional research. Rural people typically thought of themselves as producers first and consumers second. Comparative study of Amish, Mennonite, and broader Lancaster County farm households and values in a time of rural economic stress will help reveal and explain the various balancing acts of production and consumption in rural regions.

Amish men did not own tractors or other large power farm implements to amplify their manhood; similarly, Amish women did not own power household appliances to symbolize their feminine roles as housekeepers. However, Amish families did not reject all aspects of mass consumption, and a great many manufactured items, mass circulation periodicals, and household conveniences could be found in Depression-era Amish houses. How did Amish families adapt consumer culture to their patriarchal traditional households and farm operations in ways that did not disrupt their orderly communal structures and religious values? Was there a stable sense of Amish masculinity to carry Amish farmers through the hardships of the Depression economy?