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Diaspora in the Countryside

Diaspora in the Countryside: Two Mennonite Communities and Mid-Twentieth Century Rural Disjuncture

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 336
  • Book Info
    Diaspora in the Countryside
    Book Description:

    Loewen charts not only the dispersion of two rural communities, but follows their former residents as they reformulate their lives in new settings.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2787-1
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Maps
    (pp. xvii-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-17)

    The middle decades of the twentieth century represented a time of massive, transnational upheaval in the countryside of North America. The midcentury in both Canada and the United States was a time of unprecedented agricultural commercialization, scientific innovation, state intervention, and increased consumption and communication.¹ This book tells the history of that social transformation and associated cultural change by focusing on the rural Mennonite experience. The account begins with a comparison of two communities in separate corners of the great North American interior grassland, in Meade County (Kansas) and in the Rural Municipality (RM) of Hanover (Manitoba). The communities differed...

  6. 1 The Great Disjuncture and Ethnic Farmers: Life in Two Corners of a Transnational Grassland
    (pp. 18-33)

    The images from the Great Depression of weak markets and drought-stricken plains overshadow a diverse economic and cultural landscape. On one level, no two rural communities of the western grassland were as different as Meade County in Kansas was from the Rural Municipality (RM) of Hanover in Manitoba. Hanover in the far northeast had responded to the Depression from within its physical landscape; its southern sections of rocky bushland enabled subsistence farming and its northern sections of flat, clay prairie held moisture well and allowed grain production through the 1930s. Meade lay far to the southwest, in a region marked...

  7. 2 Snowdrift and Dust Bowl: The Environment and Cultural Change
    (pp. 34-57)

    The economic transformation in rural Meade and Hanover occurred within a context of cultural change. This latter change, as we will see, revealed itself in shifting ideas of class, ethnicity, religion, and gender, but it could also be seen in the way the environment was imagined and regarded. On the one hand the environment is the soil and ground on which farmers toil, ‘a cast of nonhuman characters,’¹ a property sufficiently important to be the premier chapter of any rural history. Certainly, the environment – climate, soil, land, storms, micro-organisms, water – affected human behavior, although less forcefully than during the frontier...

  8. 3 ‘Hold Your Heads High in Your Usual Unassuming Manner’: Making a Mennonite Middle Class
    (pp. 58-81)

    During the middle decades of the twentieth century the farm became connected to the town and the wider society as never before. Paved highways, family cars, local radio, national television, and the regional offices of the ag rep and county agent offered consumer products, popular culture, and state support. Farmers who adapted successfully to the new state-nurtured farm economy were richly rewarded, both by the status of landedness within the rural sections and by the procurement of town-based consumer products. Families unable or unwilling to make the adjustment relinquished farm life and instead found a different version of modernity in...

  9. 4 Joy and Evangelicalism: Rediscovering Faith in Kansas
    (pp. 82-101)

    North American rural historians often describe the conflict between conservative, ethnoreligious communities and the wider individualistic, English, liberal society.¹ Studies of specific conservative rural communities – Dutch Reformed, German Catholic, Swedish Lutheran, Jewish, and Mormon – have focused on the perennial search by devout people for ways to ‘stand apart in the world.’² This search produced a battle between persistence and accommodation that seemed constant. During times of social transformation the religious commitment and intense debates about faith among these distinctive groups, immigrants, or ethnic minorities seemed stimulated in new ways. The great European migrations to the North American grassland in the...

  10. 5 Beyond Shunning: Reconfiguring the Old Manitoba Bruderschaft
    (pp. 102-123)

    Just as the midcentury social changes in Kansas demanded a religious response, so too did those in Manitoba. As in Meade County, religious understandings in the Rural Municipality (RM) of Hanover and the town of Steinbach were put to the test. In Manitoba, however, change came more slowly and gradually. It was as if the critical mass of Mennonites, and particularly conservative Mennonites, in places such as Hanover filtered the evangelical enterprise to some extent. Nevertheless, opposing communitarian and evangelistic concerns became locked in an intense and dynamic relationship within the local community, pitting rural churches against town churches, but...

  11. 6 The Rise and Fall of the Cheerful Homemaker: Womanhood in Kansas
    (pp. 124-144)

    ‘I made butter, sewed and set 10 hens’; ‘I worked hard at “keeping Saturday”’; ‘I worked hard at cleaning the chicken barn’; ‘I and Helena sewed and did the chores.’¹ These were some of Helena Doerksen Reimer’s entries in a March 1949 German-language diary, descriptions of the everyday life of women on a Meade County, Kansas, farm.² In 1952 another Mennonite woman in theMeade Globe Press’s‘Coffee Chatter’ column created a text that represented a different female world. This unnamed newspaper correspondent described the local ‘Cheerful Homemakers’ Home Demonstration Unit (HDU) that met regularly for all-day meetings to discuss...

  12. 7 Poultrymen, Car Dealers, and Football Stars: Masculinities in Manitoba
    (pp. 145-168)

    Just as the effect of the Great Disjuncture on gender in the Mennonite community of western Kansas can be observed in a case study of women, so the changing views of gender in the Mennonite community of eastern Manitoba can be seen through a study of manhood. The forces associated with the Great Disjuncture affected the meaning of femininity and the structure of women’s roles in both Kansas and Manitoba. The same social forces reshaped the very idea of masculinity in both places. Men rethought the meaning of respectable maleness as they accommodated the rising consumerism in society, commercialism in...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  14. 8 Reinventing Mennonite Tradition: Old Ways in the Jungles of British Honduras
    (pp. 169-201)

    The most conservative of the Mennonite farmers of Meade and Hanover were profoundly concerned that the mid-twentieth-century world was undermining their faith and weakening their ability to guard their inherited culture. In postwar Manitoba they were among many old-order Mennonites who stood up to modernity and migrated to isolated agrarian colonies in Latin America. In 1948 about 1200 of these Mennonites headed to Paraguay and about 800 to Mexico. The two countries held special appeal because during the 1920s after the passage of assimilative school attendance acts in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, almost 9000 conservative Canadian prairie Mennonites had moved south,...

  15. 9 Fragmented Freedoms: Studies of Mennonites in Winnipeg and Denver
    (pp. 202-227)

    Far-reaching social changes in mid-twentieth-century rural society sent many of the most conservative North American Mennonites into both a virtual and real diaspora. In the eastern half of the continent – especially in Ontario, Pennsylvania, and Ohio – intrusive governments and consumer cultures caused Swiss-descendant Old Order Mennonites and Amish to reassert themselves in highly visible agrarian communities, private schools, and communitarian churches.¹ In western Canada conservative Dutch-descendant Mennonite groups separated themselves physically, undertaking costly migrations southward to Paraguay and northern Mexico, with secondary migrations to British Honduras, Bolivia, and southern Mexico. But at the very time that the Great Disjuncture was...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 228-236)

    The middle decades of the twentieth century shook the foundation of rural North America. Economic transformation, social change, and cultural reinvention seemed intertwined to make for a great disjuncture in the countryside. Several studies have identified this change in the lives of typical farm families. This book has examined its effect in the world of conservative, ethnoreligious people who inhabit the farms of Canada and the United States in large numbers. Studies have demonstrated that these were decades of transmutation for a variety of such communitarian people, including Jewish farmers from upstate New York, Dutch Calvinists of Iowa, Quebec-descendent French...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 237-298)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 299-316)
  19. Index
    (pp. 317-331)