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GOSHEN -- When Thomas J. Meyers and Steven Nolt wrote a book about the Amish, they focused on the ones closest to home.
Many books have focused on Amish of Lancaster County, Pa., the largest settlement in the world. Little has been written about 35,000-plus Amish in Indiana. The third-largest settlement is located in Elkhart and LaGrange counties.
Meyers and Nolt, professors at Goshen College and scholars of Amish culture, have written "An Amish Patchwork: Indiana's Old Orders in the Modern World," which was released by Indiana University Press in February and is available locally at the Goshen College bookstore and Provident Bookstore. The book is one of the works resulting from use of Lilly Endowment funds by the two scholars.
Their newest book, which presents scholarly information for a general audience, highlights the diversity of Amish in Indiana, particularly the Amish who have origins in Switzerland.
Most Amish known as Pennsylvania Dutch, including most in northern Indiana, came to the United States from Europe in the 1700s and initially settled in Pennsylvania. Those with Swiss origins came in the 1800s and settled around Fort Wayne or Berne.
Six of the 19 Amish settlements in Indiana came from Switzerland, said Meyers, a professor of sociology, academic dean and director of international education at the college. The dialect and practices are different. One Amish bishop told Meyers and Nolt, "It's like Spanish to us when the Swiss come together talking." Though to an outsider the groups look similar, they have different practices and interact little. "They really are different worlds," said Nolt, associate professor of history
Nolt and Meyers visited every community in Indiana, often gleaning information from connections they've built through the years. The result is a book that's an overview of Amish life in Indiana. No other book has a map of the communities and updated occupation and education statistics.
In addition to discovering diversity, they discovered changes among the Amish. Amish schools have increased in popularity and number, and parents are more likely to work in a factory than decades ago. Amish children are more likely to be surrounded by Amish peers as they grow up with an Amish identity and parents are more likely to work with non-Amish, a reverse from decades ago, said Nolt.
"The Amish factory worker is working in a factory to make a living to be Amish. In a sense working in a factory is a means to an end," said Meyers.
As society continues to change, Amish leaders are much more conscious of the types of change they'll permit, said Meyers. They allow some, but work to maintain an identity separate from the world. "I can't imagine Amish accepting television, for example," he said.
Nolt and Meyers' book also has a chapter on a group often confused with Amish, particularly in Elkhart County. Old Order Mennonites also drive horse-and-buggies, dress simply and often farm to make a living. The group formed when Jacob Wisler was excommunicated from the Mennonite church in 1872, and followers started meeting with him in the Yellow Creek area between Goshen and Wakarusa.
Old Order and Amish groups continue to grow and are starting new settlements as they need more space. "Fewer people are leaving the Amish today than 50 years ago," said Meyers. "It's easier to be Amish than when you were limited to farming."
Two new Amish settlements formed in 1996 and one is trying to form in southern Indiana, said Nolt. "In the next 10 years, if I had to predict, there may be 21, 22, 23 settlements in Indiana," he said.
Contact Marshall V. King at email@example.com.