McConnell and Hurst on the Ohio Amish

My first direct encounter with the Amish was at Columbus bus station in the early hours of a winter morning in 1985.

I was a third year undergraduate student, based at the University of Sussex in England, but spending an academic year at the University of California at Santa Barbara. A fellow British student and I had been travelling by Greyhound Bus from west coast to east, calling at Houston, New Orleans, Montgomery (Al) and Atlanta before heading north east to the capital where we parted company, intending to meet up after Christmas in St Louis on the way back to California.

While on the early stage of the return leg, I found myself on one of those bleary-eyed stopovers that are characteristic of long haul bus journeys and it was there, in the sub zero night, that my eyes fell upon the Amish boy, with wide-brimmed black hat and collarless shirt, and the older man, with his white hair, dark clothes and - most memorably - carved dark wood smoking pipe.

American professors Charles Hurst and David McConnell have recently completed the world's first academic study of Ohio's Holmes County Amish - neighbouring Pennsylvania's communities having been extensively researched.

Hurst and McConnell's anthropological seven-year study is written up in their book An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World's Largest Amish Community and also summarised
here in Wooster Magazine (p. 12 onwards).

As the book's title suggests, attempts to describe modern Amish life in simple modern v traditional terms fail to appreciate the richness and diversity within the tradition and the complexities of adaptation and continuity.

Photo Akeg