Out of Sight, Out of History??

Fun fact about JoyEllen: I LOVE Amish fiction. For those of you who are reading this post and already raising your eyebrows, yes, Amish fiction is actually a thing. See below…

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These are just a few of the Amish books I’ve enjoyed since my obsession began just a few summers ago. And just in case you are wondering, I am not making this genre up; you can go to Barnes and Noble and find an entire section labeled “Amish fiction.”  For some reason, I am fascinated by the Amish lifestyle and belief system, particularly since there are so many different types of Amish people. While my Amish fiction books make wonderful stories, the archivist in me keeps wondering about the real stories of Amish people that we can only find through their archives. How do Amish people preserve their history? Are there archivists within the Amish community? Are there academic institutions that collaborate with the Amish? This kind of goes along with my general interest in community archives and the hidden collections and stories of people mainstream society often lets slip through the cracks. This whole situation is a little difference when it comes to Amish folk, though. In many ways, they choose to separate themselves from mainstream society and its “fancy” culture, as they say. I completely understand and respect this choice; however, just because we may not see and interact with them as much doesn’t mean they are not a part of history. As archivists, how do we preserve and document the history of a people who, for the most part, would rather be left alone? This is an issue that comes up in other communities as well, such as the Native American community. In 2007, a collaborative group of Native American and non-Native American archivists and librarians got together and drafted the “Protocols for Native American Archival Materials.” Although this document was not officially accepted by the Society of American Archivists, it did establish some ethical and respectful standards for the historical representation of indigenous people. If archivists were to spend more time documenting the Amish, would a similar document be necessary?

I genuinely do not know the answers to these tough questions. After all, this is a matter of ethics just as much as it is a matter of preservation. I decided to explore what some archival literature has to say about it. But. . . after some quick online searches, I could hardly find anything related to the Amish and their archives. I did a keyword searches in The American Archivist and hardly found anything. The same goes for Archivaria, Archival Science, and Archival Issues. These are just a few journals off the top of my head. I definitely have more to survey. In addition, I may need to reach out to some archivists in states that have large concentrations of Amish people (Pennsylvania, Ohio, etc.) to see if they have any insight on the archives of the Amish. If anyone has any insight into this, please leave a comment! An inquiring mind (aka me) would love to know!

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