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Plain Diversity

Amish Cultures and Identities

Steven M. Nolt and Thomas J. Meyers

Publication Year: 2007

Plain and simple. American popular culture has embraced a singular image of Amish culture that is immune to the complexities of the modern world: one-room school houses, horses and buggies, sound and simple morals, and unfaltering faith. But these stereotypes dangerously oversimplify a rich and diverse culture. In fact, contemporary Amish settlements represent a mosaic of practice and conviction. In the first book to describe the complexity of Amish cultural identity, Steven M. Nolt and Thomas J. Meyers explore the interaction of migration history, church discipline, and ethnicity in the community life of nineteen Amish settlements in Indiana. Their extensive field research reveals the factors that influence the distinct and differing Amish identities found in each settlement and how those factors relate to the broad spectrum of Amish settlements throughout North America. Nolt and Meyers find Amish children who attend public schools, Amish household heads who work at luxury mobile home factories, and Amish women who prefer a Wal-Mart shopping cart to a quilting frame. Challenging the plain and simple view of Amish identity, this study raises the intriguing question of how such a diverse people successfully share a common identity in the absence of uniformity.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. v-vii

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pp. vii-x

Before sunup an Old Order Amish family in northeastern Indiana rises to begin the tasks of another day. They dress by gas lamps, their home devoid of public utility electricity. Over breakfast they might plan a horse-and-buggy trip to town or discuss the anticipated construction of a new Amish school. Then they head to the shop behind their house to spend the day manufacturing and shipping carefully...

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1 Introduction: Amish Images and Identities

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pp. 1-18

Shipshewana, a village of just over five hundred permanent residents in LaGrange County, Indiana, swells each summer week by thirty thousand, as tourists from across the country roll into town. Local shopping venues, restaurants, and the Shipshewana Flea Market provide the primary draw, but Shipshewana’s location in the midst of the world’s third-largest Old Order Amish population plays a key role...


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2 Migration

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pp. 21-37

The Amish are a people of history. One of the remarkable characteristics of Amish society is its refusal to play by the rules of progress, to accept as inevitable the modern conviction that new and improved are synonyms, or to believe that change always carries the seeds of success. While the Amish are neither principled reactionaries nor fossilized fragments of a lost world, they do defer to the wisdom...

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3 Ordnung

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pp. 38-53

The sources of Amish cohesion puzzle observers accustomed to locating group identity in formal institutions, professional job titles, and program affiliations. Ready to place people on organizational flow charts, outsiders search in vain for Amish denominational headquarters, public spokespeople, position papers, or published budget priorities. In contrast to these modern bureaucratic markers, radically decentralized Amish...

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4 Ethnicity

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pp. 54-70

When asked to describe themselves, Amish people rarely launch into autobiographical description peppered with first person singular pronouns. They talk instead in collective terms of family, church, or simply “our people.” Frequently, these categories overlap and even blend together. While the Amish are quick to note personality characteristics, temperaments, and dispositions that mark individuals, they...


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5 Elkhart-LaGrange and Nappanee Settlements

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pp. 73-100

Each year millions of tourists crowd small towns in northern Indiana’s LaGrange and Elkhart counties, seeking a few hours or a few days in what regional tourist bureaus bill as “Amish Country.”1 Whether in Nappanee’s Amish Acres commercial and museum complex or at the sprawling Shipshewana Flea Market grounds twenty-five miles to the northeast, these visitors rarely encounter Old Orders directly...

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6 Swiss Settlements of Eastern Indiana

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pp. 101-120

Indiana’s Swiss Amish possess a clear sense of identity that is simultaneously selfassured and yet always in the shadow of their better-known Pennsylvania German–speaking religious cousins. Ask an Amish person in the Swiss settlement near the southern Indiana town of Vevay to name the largest Amish settlements in the state, and they are apt to cite those in Adams and Allen counties, and perhaps in Daviess County. Mention the Nappanee community, which rivals Adams County’s in size, ...

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7 Transplants from Lancaster, Pennsylvania

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pp. 121-141

Late in the evening the moving trucks rolled into the Wayne County, Indiana, farm lane. The new owners—an Amish family from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—were one of more than a dozen households in 1995 to relocate to this fledgling Lancaster outpost in the Midwest, begun just a year before. The entourage unloading that night had brought the household goods, farm animals, and equipment...

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8 The Paoli-Salem Communities

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pp. 142-162

The southern Indiana barn raising attracted Amish participants from four different settlements in Orange and neighboring Washington counties. Some of the men arrived in enclosed buggies; others came in open ones. Half of the carriages bore bright orange triangles indicating a Slow Moving Vehicle (SMV), and half did not. A few of the workers had hired English drivers to bring them to the site, while...


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9 Diverse Amish Worlds

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pp. 165-179

Sifting the similarities and differences that mark Amish life promises to make sense of more than just the Indiana experience. Stripping away the superficial veneer of uniformity that coats popular perceptions of Amish life, the variegated reality that lies underneath requires us to sort out the common from the coincidental, the central from the circumstantial. ...

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10 Amish Community as Conversation

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pp. 180-193

Community is an important word among the Amish. In its German form— Gemeinde—or its Pennsylvania German derivative—Gemee—it refers to the church, church members, and the regular gathering of those members around religious rituals. From scholarly academics to curious tourists, observers tag community as a remarkable aspect of Amish life. Marketers and media masters seeking to pinpoint...

Appendix. Extinct Indiana Amish Settlements

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p. 195


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pp. 197-225


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pp. 227-235


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pp. 237-241

E-ISBN-13: 9781421402840
E-ISBN-10: 142140284X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801886058
Print-ISBN-10: 0801886058

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 24 b&w photos, 15 line illustrations
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 606278575
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Plain Diversity

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Amish -- Indiana -- Social life and customs.
  • Indiana -- Social conditions.
  • Indiana -- History, Local.
  • Community life -- Indiana.
  • Amish -- Indiana -- Ethnic identity.
  • Indiana -- Social life and customs.
  • Amish -- Indiana -- Social conditions.
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