Steven Dale Reschly

Truman State University
About the Speaker

Dr. Steven D. Reschly has taught at Truman State University since 1994. He earned his PhD in history at the University of Iowa in 1994. His current research examines rural consumer culture in Great Depression–era Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. His first book, The Amish on the Iowa Prairie, 1840–1910, was named the 2002 Book of the Year by the Communal Studies Association. He is also the author of Strangers at Home: Amish and Mennonite Women in History. In 2003–2004 he taught at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany as a Fulbright Senior Scholar.

The Old Order Amish in Missouri and the Midwest

Drawn by inexpensive land distanced from major population centers, a wide variety of Amish and Mennonite families are creating new communities and expanding existing communities in Missouri and the Midwest. Amish-themed romance novels and murder mysteries, not to mention “reality” TV series, are becoming an increasingly visible part of the American cultural landscape. Historian Steven Reschly, who grew up in a Mennonite community in southeast Iowa and whose ancestry is Amish, will illustrate Amish history, beliefs, stereotypes, and mistaken ideas in American popular culture. He will also discuss the present situation of Old Order religious groups and possible future directions for these societies with roots in European Anabaptist and Pietist movements. Possible subtopics include organic agriculture; theology; an Amish sleeping preacher in 1870s and 1880s Iowa; the Amish and the Great Depression in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; Amish origins in Europe; gender; and the Amish in American popular culture.

The Amish in American Popular Culture

The Amish make frequent appearances in the mass media. A short list would include the 1985 movie Witness starring Harrison Ford, the 1996 parody song “Amish Paradise” by Weird Al Yankovic, TV shows such as Amish in the CityWorld’s Squarest Teenagers and its sequel Living with the AmishAmish: Out of OrderBreaking Amish, and the infamous and ridiculous Amish Mafia. The Amish also appear randomly in episodes of TV shows such as Family GuyX-FilesPicket FencesBonesMacGyverMurder She Wrote, and many others. Why are these people, who only want to be left alone, such good subjects for parody and humor? An antidote to stereotypes and mistaken beliefs about the Amish is accurate historical and theological information. Reschly will illustrate Amish history and beliefs, explaining their descent from the Anabaptist movement of sixteenth-century central Europe and their subsequent experiences of persecution, migration, encounters with governments and laws, and much more.