Anabaptists to Zwieback: Textual Access and Exclusion in Russian Mennonite Community Cookbooks of South Central Kansas

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Harris-Aber, Amy A
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Middle Tennessee State University
Russian Mennonite immigrants who settled south central Kansas in the late 19th century and their descendants naturally developed a discourse community that differentiates them from the dominant culture in which they reside. Changing regional dynamics regarding diversity along with continued acculturation impacts this ethnoreligious community in a kind of dual displacement; the descendants of these Russian Mennonites not only live in the shadow of their ancestors’ collected memories and traumas related to migration, but have and are currently witnessing further shifts away from the once agricultural lifestyle they previously observed. Therefore, heritage preservation is increasingly vital for stakeholders engaged with the history of Anabaptist life in Kansas. My dissertation attempts to elucidate aspects of the Russian Mennonite discourse community of south central Kansas by engaging with regional foodways as they appear in community cookbooks. I combine interview and text analysis data with John Swales’ concepts of discourse communities to further define how cultural insiders worked in previous decades to create community through the production of food focused texts. By analyzing the Zwieback recipes from eight community cookbooks produced within the same cultural group, I examine which texts exclude certain audiences, and which are meant to provide an access point for cultural “outsiders.” I maintain that due to acculturation and shifting population demographics in the region, long term regional and familial proximity to the Russian Mennonite community of south central Kansas determines understanding of high-context cultural practices. Establishing digital archives for Kansas Mennonite community cooking texts is also the most accessible form of preservation for all stakeholders.
Rhetoric, Religion, Ethnic studies