The Amish of Illinois

Poster advertising the "Simply Amish" furniture brand

Poster advertising the “Simply Amish” furniture brand

Think for a moment what the word “worldly” connotes in its modern usage: a high level of formal education; sophistication; open-mindedness about cultures, languages, and ways different from our own. All in all, these can be seen as quite positive attributes. In cosmopolitan circles, one might fondly refer to a well-traveled and/or multilingual friend as “worldly,” perhaps with a slight air of envy at their mobility and adventuresome lifestyle. On a “world-class” university campus, “worldliness” as an ideal state of mind and of action has become intertwined with such institutions’ mission statements. And, of course, not without good reason, considering the highly interconnected and transnational nature of modernity.

Now compare this to another interpretation: Worldliness may entail all of those positive attributes mentioned above, but it may likely come at the cost of breaking with tradition, with isolating oneself from one’s family and home community, with being, as it were, too attached to this world when not only one’s identity as a member of a group is at stake, but also one’s eternal status in the afterlife. This is the view of the Amish.

Thus, when something – an act, a technological device, a manner of conducting oneself – is considered “worldly” by practitioners of the Amish faith, it is often considered better avoided. Not judged as evil, necessarily, but not deemed as useful in the grand scheme of things. Perplexing to our modern sensibilities? Certainly, but this is the nature of the Amish outlook, and this culture and its folkways have thrived intact, in spite of the dominant society on the North American continent for over 250 years by maintaining such views.

Most, if not all of the reactions I received to the news that I was conducting research on the Amish belied a certain befuddlement and overall mystery about them. Certain traits of the Amish that were listed off either anecdotally or from hearsay turned out to be mildly to wildly inaccurate. Contrary to some comments I heard, “technology” in and of itself is not eschewed by the Amish, but rather the effects that certain kinds of technology can have on a given Amish community. Thus, a car is not inherently sinful or evil and in fact many Amish rely on non-Amish (“Englisch”) coworkers for rides to and from work. But the potentially negative effect that a car has on one’s bond with the home community means that its ownership is clearly verboten. What is or isn’t permitted is determined by each congregation’s Ordnung, or “order” in German, meaning the community’s unwritten set of rules and regulations (Mabry 2008: 10).

So who in the world are the Amish, really? Strictly speaking, they are Anabaptist Christians (i.e., practitioners of adult as opposed to infant baptism), descended primarily from immigrants from the post-Reformation, German-speaking regions of central Europe, including areas of what are today France, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. However, since the 1930s, there are no longer any Amish in Europe (Nolt 1992: 182-3). As for other Anabaptist groups, relatively small numbers of Mennonites remain in Europe, according to the Mennonite World Conference World Directory, 2012. Those Amish who maintain the practices of strict shunning, avoidance of most technological innovations, holding church services in congregants’ homes (as opposed to meetinghouses or churches) and in the High German language, and plain dress are considered Old Order Amish, as opposed to other sects that have changed more drastically over time.

The Amish take their demonym from the surname of the preacher Jakob Ammann (1644 – c.1720), who broke away from the less socially conservative Mennonites in 1693. In particular, Ammann promoted the strict practice of socially shunning church members considered to be living in unrepentant sin. Before this schism, however, Anabaptists in general were persecuted by mainstream European society throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, leading to a galvanized sense of both their religious and ethnic unity. An early avoidance of all things “worldly” (a prime example being violence in general) led these early “radical reformers” to adopt strict pacifism, self-sufficiency, and, overall, a highly cautious perception of the world-at-large. Later, when both Amish and Mennonites sought further opportunities to practice their beliefs in peace, they arrived at the same conclusion as many other European conscientious objectors of the 17th and early 18th centuries: emigration to the New World. In particular, these groups chose one of the most culturally and ideologically tolerant of the thirteen British colonies in America, Pennsylvania, recently founded by the progressive-minded Quaker William Penn. Groups identifying as Amish began arriving as early as 1737 (Nolt: Ch. 1-3).

Over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, the intrinsically rural Amish avoided the burgeoning, industrialized urban centers of colonial and post-colonial America and gradually spread westward, covering a large swath of territory in not only Pennsylvania, but also Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. While there are small Amish communities in other areas (including the Canadian province of Ontario), in general they followed the predominantly ethnic-German wave of immigration across the Midlands region of the continental United States (Woodard 2011: Ch. 8).

Established between 1864-66, the Amish communities of central Illinois are concentrated in Moultrie and Douglas counties, about 35-40 miles south and west of Champaign-Urbana (Nolt: 188-9). This predominantly Old Order Amish settlement of around 4,000 can be found along Route 133 between the towns of Arthur and Arcola. According to Anabaptist expert Donald Kraybill, it is the ninth-largest Amish settlement in North American (Mabry 2008: 6). Congregations of more modernized Mennonites are also located nearby, as well as interspersed among them.

I visited this area by bicycle recently and took a few snapshots (I avoided any close-up shots of Amish people, as they strongly prefer not to be photographed – according to their beliefs it promotes vanity):

"Dutch" in the modern context is a misnomer but in an earlier sense referred to the Amish-Mennonites as ethnically and linguistically German (Deutsch or Deitsch)

Billboard at the entrance to Amish country between Arcola and Arthur, Illinois. “Dutch” in the modern context is a misnomer for the Amish-Mennonite people, but in an earlier sense more accurately referred to them as being ethnically and linguistically German (i.e., Deutsch in High German or Deitsch in the local vernacular, also known as “Pennsylvania Dutch”).

Horses and buggies coexist with automobiles as tradition and modernity continue to overlay each other in increasingly complex ways

On the outskirts of Arthur, IL, horses and buggies coexist with automobiles. Amish tradition and “Englisch” modernity continue to overlap each other in increasingly complex ways.

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Founded in 1890 in Sugarcreek, Ohio, the Budget provides weekly, highly localized news to the Amish and Mennonite communities throughout North America and the world. It represents an otherwise archaic form of mass print journalism, in that the news is reported almost exclusively by the paper’s readership itself, via “scribes” or writers representing individual Amish or Mennonite communities (Nolt: 202-3).

What I found while riding my modern bicycle alongside horses and buggies constructed according to centuries-old methods was a place where the past and the present intersect in notably profound ways. Yet, to the Amish, certain things do not change because they needn’t change. According to Steven M. Nolt, a recognized expert on Mennonite and Amish history,

“While the larger Western world seeks peace in bigger weapons, happiness in newer, larger and ever more material things, and disregards extended family and community in the search for individual self-fulfillment, the Amish continue to espouse such unpopular values as ‘turning the other cheek,’ living with less and working for a common good. Faith in God and God’s activity in the world through the church has marked Amish life as noticeably different from an American society bemused by ‘progress,’ but unable to find a purpose or meaning in the resulting activity” (283).

As I perused the items in Yoder’s Lamps, Antiques and Collectibles in downtown Arthur, I overheard the proprietor speaking in the unfamiliar tones of Pennsylvania “Dutch” to his employees, reminding me that the melting pot of the United States has not yet – nor may ever – come to a full boil. On my way out of town, an elderly Mennonite woman who repairs sewing machines and hardcover books explained to me that though the Mennonite church no longer uses High German in its liturgy (as the Old Order Amish church does), she is bilingual in the same Low German dialect as that of her Amish neighbors. “We have the same roots,” she confirmed. Since much of the modern American (and, to a certain extent, Canadian) Midwest was originally populated by immigrants from the same areas of German-speaking central Europe as both the Amish and Mennonites originally hailed, what’s clear is that adherence to or distance from traditional religious practices has meant the difference between maintaining distinct ethno-linguistic identity or otherwise assimilating to the culture of the Anglo-American majority.

Whether we, as outsiders, wish to view the Amish (and Mennonites) as models of Christianity, as paragons of simple, family-values-based living and local entrepreneurship, as leaders in environmental sustainability, or perhaps even as stubbornly anachronistic outliers to the norm, what’s clear is that their presence and impact add a fascinating element to our understanding of the North American cultural landscape. And as pertains to the European historical roots of this continent’s ideological and religious heritage, they most certainly cannot be ignored.


 References (click links for UIUC Library catalog records):

Mabry, R. (2008). The Amish of Illinois’ HeartlandChampaign, IL: The News-Gazette.

Nolt, S. (1992). A History of the AmishIntercourse, PA: Good Books.

Woodard, C. (2011). American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North AmericaNew York: Viking Books.

For more information, see:

Beiler, J. (2009). Think No Evil: Inside the Story of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting…and Beyond. New York: Howard Books.

Hurst, C. and McConnell, D. (2010). An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World’s Largest Amish Community. United States: Johns Hopkins University Press.

The Winners of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize

On October 10, 2014, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize will be shared by Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay. According to a press release from the Nobel Committee, this year’s winners were chosen on the basis of their advocacy for children and access to education. The Committee states:

It is a prerequisite for peaceful global development that the rights of children and young people be respected. In conflict-ridden areas in particular, the violation of children leads to the continuation of violence from generation to generation. [I]

Kailash Satyarthi by Leandro Uchoas is licensed under CC-BY-2.0.

Kailash Satyarthi by Leandro Uchoas is licensed under CC-BY-4.0 (image via Wikimedia Commons).

Satyarthi and Yousafzay share a commitment to children’s rights. Kailash Satyarthi, who was born in Vidisha, India in 1954, has been organizing protests and demonstrations in support of children’s rights for many years. In 1980, he founded the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS), an organization dedicated to aiding child laborers and preventing the trafficking and exploitation of young people. [II] In 1998, he organized the Global March Against Child Labor, during which demonstrators marched across 103 countries demanding children’s rights. Today, Satyarthi chairs the Global March Against Child Labor, an organization that brings together NGOs working on these issues and continues to hold events and advocate for children in the United Nations. [III] If you are interested in learning more, Glocal Notes suggests Globalisation, development, and child rights (Delhi: Shipra, 2006), edited by Satyarthi and Bupinder Zutshi.

Malala Yousafzai by Southbank Centre is licensed under CC-BY-2.0. (Photo via Flickr.com).

Malala Yousafzai by Southbank Centre is licensed under CC-BY-2.0. (Photo via Flickr.com).

Malala Yousafzay, born in Mingora, Pakistan in 1997, is being honored by the Nobel Committee at just 17 years old. She has been speaking out about girls’ rights to education since she was 12 years old. In 2009, she began to write an anonymous blog for the BBC documenting her experiences living in Pakistan’s Swat Valley as the Taliban came to power in the region and began to limit girl’s access to schools. In 2012, Yousafzay, then 14 and on her way to school, was shot by the Taliban, who hoped to silence her. [IV] Although, the shooting left her in critical condition, Yousafzay recovered and continues to advocate for children’s rights. In July 2013, she gave a powerful speech at the United Nations Youth Assembly. During the speech, she encourages us all to follow her lead by telling us:

One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.

If you would like to learn more about Yousafzay, her autobiography, I am Malala: the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban, is available in the library. Both Yousafzay and Satyarthi’s work in support of children’s rights is very inspiring and Glocal Notes congratulates them on their well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize!

References

[I] Noble Media AB. (2014). The Nobel Peace Prize 2014 – Press Release. Retrieved from http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2014/press.html

[II] Harma, R. (2009). Global march against child labor. In Hugh D. Hindman (Ed.), The world of child labor: An historical and regional survey. Retrieved from Credo Reference.

[III] Global March International Secretariat. (2014). Global March Against Child Labor. Retrieved from http://www.globalmarch.org/.

[IV] Walsh, D. (2012).  “Taliban Gun Down Girl Who Spoke Up for Rights.” New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/10/world/asia/teen-school-activist-malala-yousafzai-survives-hit-by-pakistani-taliban.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

Faces (Phases) of Iraq: Canvas Truths vs. Plasma Screen Blues

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“Violins and Bases” by Sundus Abdul Hadi (via http://sundusah.tumblr.com/warchestra)

On Monday, September 15, 2014 I gave a presentation entitled “Sundus Abdul Hadi and the Narcicyst: From Weapons of Mass Destruction to Instruments of Creation.” The presentation dealt with two married artists of Arab descent who use their artistic mediums of expression to defy and transform the image of traditional marriage and hip-hop. However, it is important to note that the music and art Abdul Hadi and the Narcicyst produce is part of a movement of Arab artists who use hip-hop as a medium to challenge not just the commercialization of a youth culture, but also to redefine and recreate the image of underrepresented communities abroad.

Since the tragedy of 9/11, Iraqi-Canadian multimedia artists Abdul Hadi and the Narcicyst had begun to produce art and music that defied the negative stereotypes broadcasted by the media. Warchestra, a multimedia art project, was their response in order to challenge the misinformation and marginalization of Arab society by mainstream media. Through the creation of a soundscape, Abdul Hadi and the Narcicyst worked to “replace weapons of war with musical instruments . . . [in order] to re-imagine, re-define, and re-invent the war in Iraq as it was represented in the media” (Abdul Hadi). Instead of wielding an automatic weapon or explosives, the men’s weapons are replaced with tubas, trombones, saxophones, and clarinets. While media broadcasts images of violent and radical Arabs, Sundus and the Narcicyst use Warchestra to encourage dialogue and transform the image of the Middle East and its people.

New discussions about the future of Iraq are taking place worldwide concerning the threat of a militant group named the Islamic State, or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), as they are commonly referred to. President Obama has commented about his stance against ISIS, but has also been careful not to declare war. Recent news developments mention the US has conducted airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria. And with each new day, more images of war-stricken foreign lands emerge, thus reinforcing the negative stereotypes of Arabs and the Middle East. Fortunately, artists like Sundus Abdul Hadi and the Narcicyst provide an alternative to such negative stereotypes with their art and message of peace.

The International and Area Studies Library at the University of Illinois is home to many resources related to the history and current events of Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries.

For more information about Abdul Hadi and the Narcicyst’s multimedia project Warchestra and other projects, go to the following link: http://sundusah.tumblr.com/warchestra

For links to subject headings, databases, news updates, articles, encyclopedias, dictionaries, blogs and more on Iraq and neighboring Middle Eastern and North African countries, go to the following links:

http://uiuc.libguides.com/content.php?pid=517878&sid=4261171

http://uiuc.libguides.com/ArabDemocracy

For additional electronic references, go to the following link:

http://www.library.illinois.edu/eref/formats/countries.html

Hispanic Heritage Month

Every year, Hispanic Heritage Month is observed here in the United States. It is September 15th through October 15th. Throughout this month, the culture, history, and contributions of Hispanics in the United States is celebrated. Whether it is the history of people from Spain, Mexico, Central & South America, or the Caribbean. So, how did Hispanic Heritage Month come to be?

It began in 1968, when there was a Hispanic Heritage Week. Although it started under the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson, it expanded under President Ronald Reagan in 1988. According to the Government Printing Office, it became a law (Public Law 100-402) in August of 1988. This month is celebrated in many different ways.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month pic

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. Photo courtesy of Texas A&M University-Commerce Marketing Communications Photography.

Nationally, the Library of Congress has events, exhibitions, and stories. Among the events, a book talk by Carmen Boullosa, who is a Mexican poet, novelist, and playwright. Others who are being honored are author Cindy Trumbore and illustrator Susan L. Roth of Parrots over Puerto Rico.” They will be awarded the 2014 Américas Awards for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. For more information, be sure to visit the Official Page of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Locally, UIUC has a couple of events going on around campus and the community. Among them are:

CLACS (The Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies) has organized the 2014 Latin American Film Festival. This Festival began on September 19th and will go all the way through September 25th. Seven films will be showing. The countries and cultures from these films are diverse and showcase that while the countries may be in Latin America, each one has their own unique language/dialect and culture. For the movies and showings, check out the schedule.

There is also a Lecture Series that provides talks and lectures on many different subjects and interests related to Latin America and the Caribbean. Topics such as, “Big Business as Usual: the 2014 World Cup.” For more information, be sure to check out the full schedule.

For more events, La Casa Cultural Latina has a whole schedule for the month. La Casa was part of the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations’ (OIIR) initiative to the “recruiting and retaining underrepresented students, diversity education, civic engagement, and fostering the leadership skills necessary to develop global citizens.”

Just because Hispanic Heritage Month is just that, for a month, it doesn’t mean that it stops there. The University and Library offer many resources for students of Latino descent, or for those who would like to learn more about Hispanic Culture and/or language. Lucky for you, we compiled a list for you.

UIUC Mi Pueblo: This a Spanish-conversation group. They meet at different parts of campus for 1-hour sessions led by UIUC students. For more information about the sessions. Check out their website.

La Casa Cultural: Founded at UIUC in 1974, La Casa Cultural Latina has been committed to Latino/a students on campus, as well as the community [.

Browse through the Registered Student Organizations (RSO) and pick which ones would be the best for you.  For a complete list of RSO’s, browse a whole list of them.

Don’t forget that your library also has some great resources. Did you know that the International and Area Studies Library has a collection of Latin American books? Not only books, but newspapers and journals as well, so that you can keep up with the news. A lot of them in Spanish!

The Undergraduate Library also has a media collection with many movies and documentaries in Spanish and Portuguese, ranging from many different countries in Latin America. Some examples include, “Diarios de Motocicleta” (The Motorcycle Diaries), “Maria Full of Grace“, and “El Norte” (The North), just to name a few.

The Undergraduate Library’s QB (Question Board), has received questions from students since 1989. There have been many different questions throughout that time. Among them:

“Could you come up with a list of native women writers (novelists) writing at the early part of this century in Mexico? Preferably titles that have been translated into English”

“I was recently in New York, being a salsa person like myself, I went to a salsa nightclub. I heard of a band that was originally from Japan and came to New York to learn Spanish in order to become a salsa group. Their name was Orchestra de la Luz. Can I have some more info please? Signed, Inquiring Minds Want to Know”

“There is a popular song in Spanish called “La Macarena” (I think). There are different versions (2 that I know of). Can you tell me what “La Macarena” refers to and where did the song originate? Thanks. Signed Curiosita”

The above are just a few of the different types of questions that QB receives. To browse, search, or even submit your own question, visit QB!

For more resources that the library has to offer, browse through the subject guide offered.

There are so many things, that even we can’t list all at once in this blog post. We hope that you have found some new activities to take part in and new resources around the library.