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Hannah Sohmer
Danny Granzow
Karl Cassel
ANTH 282 Dr. Howell
October 12, 2016

Amish Paradise: Utopic Space in Shipshewana, IN

Standing in the preserved cider mill of an Amish historic farm and heritage resort, Joe
and Ella are the quintessential tourists (Amish Acres). Ella is constantly snapping photos on her
DSLR camera. Maybe you should ask them, Joe advises as she raises her camera to
photograph us, an unexpected subject given our status as fellow tourists. They are an extremely
friendly middle aged couple from rural Indiana, and they appear to be having the time of their
lives on their trip to Amish country. When they find out we are from a large metropolitan area,
they quip that we must especially be enjoying the country air. They only live about forty minutes
away, but they come to Amish country annually as a country getaway.
Joe and Ella are just two of the hundreds of thousands of tourists [that] descend on
northern Indiana to visit Amish country each year (Meyers 2003, 111). The touristic space
created by this massive industry is not only experienced by tourists like Joe and Ella, however;
indeed it is both experienced and created by tourist and tourate alike. Although tourists, Amish
tourates, and English locals experience Shipshewana in different ways, all work together to form
the utopic space that is Shipshewana.

Themes, Terms and Methods

Our study was conducted primarily through informal interviews in downtown


Shipshewana, Indiana, with some interviews also conducted in nearby Nappanee, Indiana. This
study focuses on three different types of people that we met and interviewed as mentioned
above: Tourists, Amish tourates and English locals; it is worth giving some background and
clarification on each group.
Tourist has been defined as a temporarily leisured person who voluntarily visits a place
away from home for the purpose of experiencing change (Smith 1989, 1). This definition suits
our study and while some of the tourists we interviewed travelled under half an hour to visit
Shipshewana, many were from out of state and a few were from across the country. Most tended
to be middle-aged and white, but there were a handful of ethnic minorities and a variety of ages
represented. Some Amish that visit Shipshewana could be considered tourists, but all of our data
is on non-Amish tourists.
Tourate is a now widely accepted term used to describe those who work in the tourist
industry, preferred because it not only contextualizes the group in terms of the action
(tourism), but also indicates that its members simultaneously have some degree of agency in
that action (Causey 2003, 31). Tourates in Shipshewana are both Amish and non-Amish and we
look at the differing perspectives of both groups.
English is a term used by the Amish to refer to those who are not Amish. It is employed
by both Amish and non-Amish in Shipshewana and in this paper will be used in this way and
will not refer to natives of England or the language. English locals are different from tourists
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because they are from the Shipshewana area and do not view themselves as away from home;
many work as tourates but we also have some data on locals not directly in the tourist sector.
Finally, we must define one of the key theoretical concepts used in this paper, namely
that of the utopic space. Utopic space is a concept originally posited by Louis Marin and is a key
model used by Andrew Causey in his touristic ethnography Hard Bargaining in Sumatra
(Causey 2003, 27). Causey argues that the touristic place of Samosir Island is utopic because it is
between the regulated world of perceived reality and the world of pure fantasy and desire
(2003, 27). In Sumatra, tourism allows both tourist and tourate to [explore] the boundaries
between the reality they know and the desires they feel (Causey 2003, 224). We argue that the
same is true of Shipshewana: the utopic aspects of tourism give tourists, Amish, and English
locals opportunity to push the limits of their cultural boundaries and experience life differently.

English Tourists

It was not long after passing the sign reading Welcome to Shipshewana: Amish
Country that the host of cars with license plates from all over the country began to appear.
Whizzing past horse and buggy, kids running around dressed in their traditional attire, and
clothes hanging out on the line were hundreds of tourists visiting from all across the country,
snapping photos, pointing, and soaking up the sights and sounds of Amish country. Ironically,
our group found ourselves in those very categories multiple times throughout our experience in
Shipshewana, IN. This would come to be a theme of our time in Amish country as we bounced
back and forth from tourist meandering the gift shops and quaint streets of the town, to playing
anthropologist through interview english locals, amish people, and fellow tourists.
The question then posed entertains the thought, what are these hundreds of thousands
of tourists [that] descend on northern Indiana here for? (Meyers 2003, 111). We found three
dominant and recurring reasons for tourists visits to Amish country in rural Indiana. The first
draw for tourists to Shipshewana is consumerism through the vast array of goods ranging from
homemade foods, to handcrafted furniture, to items of the past containing significance through
their antique status. There is a never ending assortment of baked goods, canned and jarred
jellies and spreads, and iconic Amish peanut butter as you enter many of the shops lining the
main streets. This is then followed by the numerous stores selling hand crafted furniture which
is a famous trade among the Amish people. Finally, the antique stores with their organized
clutter, provided an opportunity for tourists to rummage through items that each had a story
and showed the signs of long time wear and tear.
Though many of these goods could be found in other small-town shops in America, the
subtle hope [of many tourists] is to bring home the aura of the Amish along with these items
(Meyers 1). The significance and meaning through the authenticity of the goods is what sets
apart the items purchased in this particular place, with all its background and notions associated
with it. This idea of significance found in the Amish goods purchased is distinguished by Salazar
and Graburn as they explain that the power in the ideas surrounding these goods lie in the fact
that [these ideas] are widely shared by people and that they increasingly circulate across the
globe (3). This notion is brought to life through a conversation with a couple at the Blue Gate
Inn. Here this couple purchases foods and crafts they believe to be special because they Amish
made as well as find inspiration and ideas for things to make at home.
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The next recurring reason for English tourists to visit Amish country in Shipshewana was
to take part and participate in the experiences that this area has to offer. For many of the
individuals we spoke with this included buggy rides, music concerts, craft fairs, festivals, and
plays. In speaking with two men from Tinley Park, IL who were accompanied by their wives, we
found out they were here for a particular fiddle concert. Similarly, the town of Shipshewana
hosts the Fall Crafters Fair which is a big attraction for tourists as they can participate in and
experience many aspects of Amish culture and life.
An important aspect of the realm of experiences for tourists centers itself on the idea of
tourist narratives and the urge to document that is experienced by many that visit this area
(Lofgren 92). As tourists participate in this altered reality of experiences from the past, they
often act on their desires to document these experiences, as to have proof and physical
memories of what is happening. This act of documentation, particularly with the Amish people
is unique as technology is not a part of their culture. However, in talking with a handful of
Amish tourates, we found that many are tolerant of the photo taking, but they simply will not
pose in a particular way for the photos. This interaction between Amish tourates and English
tourists centered around photo taking displayed utopic ideals as it was a raw clash between
cultures where it seemed that people were freed from the bonds of their cultural rules on both
sides of the camera (Causey 27).
Thirdly, and most popularly, tourists were drawn to Amish country in Shipshewana by
its atmosphere. Many interviews with tourists with a wide range of demographics yielded an
interest and enjoyment of the atmosphere produced by this particular area and people group.
Whether it was described as the Amish atmosphere, the small-town quaintness, or simply
the atmosphere, tourists find satisfaction in the nature and way of life produced in
Shipshewana. Tourists desire this atmosphere which can be found in Amish country where
they search for an authentic way of living--a more serene, community-oriented, value-laden life
than is experienced at home (Meyers 1).
On one side, the Amish have created this simplistic way of life that draws tourists to it,
and on the other side you have tourists seeking an experience or way of life that is different than
their own back home. Tourists often make annual or recurring trips to this area, usually with
their significant other, family, or group of friends. This idea of multiple returns, similar to
tradition, to the area paired with taking in the atmosphere with people of similar thinking and
motivation highlights the specific siblingship [that] is extended to all who share a system of
beliefs (Turner 186). Turners structuralist view of communitas encapsulates the idea of unity
amongst the tourists of this liminal space, being Amish country. This communitas paired with
the distinct setting of this space creates what we believe the tourists we interviewed described as
atmosphere and is what brings people back.
As tourists spend their time in Shipshewana participating in consumerism, authentic
experiences, and simply taking in the atmosphere, their interactions with other people groups
can vary. As noted previously, examples of an interaction found in a utopic space can involve
photography dynamics between the Amish tourates and tourists or communitas relationships
among tourists. English tourists, Joe and Ella, whom we met at Amish Acres, explained they
have often felt that the Amish seem rather standoffish because of the purposeful separation
from society that can seem as though they are looking down on tourists. On the other hand,
Sheryl and Adam who come to Shipshewana regularly, jokingly saying they wish they could
retire in the area because of their love for the people and atmosphere experienced.
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This clash of perspectives and opinions among the varying groups involved in Amish
country add to the idea that this utopic space creates a realm in which participants find
themselves in a kind of neutral zone, where cultural rules [are] partially suspended so that
fantasies and urges could be acted out (Meyers 1). Regardless of the degree to which
participants in this space act outside of their normal zone or cultural norm, it is the fact that
they feel the option or possibility to act differently than they would in their home environments
that highlights the idea of a utopic space. Looking ahead, the other two people groups involved
in this intersection in a utopic space will put the unique nature of Amish country in a refined
light.

English Locals

As previously stated, tourists conceptually create the utopic space of Shipshewana


through their social imaginaries of the nostalgic, homely, peaceful and alternate world the
Amish inhabit. The primary mode of engagement with the space is through the purchase of the
goods sold there. The question that arises then is who is the seller? Who is it that physically
actualizes this commercialized utopic space and makes it accessible to the tourist by potentially
meeting their expectations and reinforcing their social imaginaries? For Shipshewana, there are
two answers to this question of tourate identification: both English and Amish contribute to the
tangible construction of the utopic Shipshewana. This section, however, will focus on English
localsboth tourates and non-touratesand how they contribute to and view Shipshewana.
As we approached Shipshewana, it was clear that the area was targeted at attracting
tourists. From the signs advertising bakeries and quilt shops, to the very vocabulary used to
describe these places of consumption like hand-crafted, rural, even primitive, we noticed
this space was portrayed in a way that affirms and encourages the social imaginaries tourists
project on and bring into the physical space. For example, the sheer number of Amish bakeries
highlighted the emphasis on the idea of homeliness in Amish culture. Additionally, many stores
are named after familial titles such as Dads Toys or Aunt Millies which is a candy store.
These names emphasize the family-centered nature of Amish culture and tourate attempts to
draw the tourist into that familial atmosphere in a commercial setting.
With these observations, we made the connection between the attraction of Shipshewana
as a place and MacCannells ideas of what an attraction can be formed around. In Sightseeing
and Social Structure, he notes that functioning establishments figure prominently as tourist
attractions (MacCannell 68). In Shipshewanas case, these establishments take the form of
bakeries, furniture stores, and antique shops--all with a commercial focus. But MacCannell also
notes that groups, too, figure as tourist attractions (68). This is certainly the case in
Shipshewana: the reason tourists flock to these establishments is because of their Amish
association. The group combines with the enterprise to create the Shipshewana attraction.
Tourists view the Amish themselves and their products as an attraction of the space, and the
English tourate participates in the economy developed as a result of this attraction.
As we entered the heart of the town, it was clear that the physical touristic hub was The
Marketplacethe term that refers to the collective grouping of Blue Gate businesses at a main
intersection of the town. The Blue Gate in a way represents the overall tourist industry in
Shipshewana which is regulated by English tourates and is central to the local economy. Its own
history is described on its website attributing the origins to Mel Riegsecker, an Amish harness
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maker whose craft became so popular that supply and accommodation had to expand to meet
the demand of consumer-minded visitors. Even in this origin narrative, the Blue Gatewhich
has not been owned by Amish for years, but rather Englishpromotes a primary purpose of
Shipshewana tourism which is to buy things.
This Marketplace the Blue Gate constructs directly relates to Causeys idea of the
marketplace as a utopic space in Hard Bargaining in Sumatra. As previously defined, a utopic
space is where both tourate and tourist interact and explore the neutral space between reality
and fantastical desire or idealized conception. The Marketplace operates in this way as it
appropriates both tourist imaginaries and Amish culture into a place where both can perform
the ritual of buying and selling physical representations of Amish culture. The English tourate is
the one who facilitates this exchange in the utopic space.
The Blue Gate Craft Barn is a highly commercialized space--there was a wide variety of
goods that all looked new and mass-produced. They sold everything from seasonal decor to
accessories like purses and jewelry. There were at least 6 workers that I noticed--all were
English. The first English tourate I spoke to was a girl in her 20s who works at the Blue Gate
Craft Barn. She was very willing to answer my questions about what it is like to live and work in
Shipshewana alongside the Amish. Interestingly, her responses seemed to downplay the cultural
difference between the English and the Amish. She said it was normal to work and live with the
Amish--just like any other place--aside from the fact that the town in her words shut down on
Sundays. Working at the Blue Gate Craft Barn was just her job--her normal life. But the irony of
this is that while her mindset that she expressed in our conversation diminished the difference
between herself and the Amish, that very difference she denied is integral to her job and
workplace. Her role as an English Tourate was to sell, and what she sells at the Craft Barn
reflects the utopic ideologies that tourists project and tourates like her promote.
In contrast with the Craft Barn, Cherrypickers is a store for tourist shoppers located only
a few blocks away from the Marketplace, but the atmosphere was very different there. The goods
themselves were visually different: Cherrypickers carried more antiques than gifts that looked
mass-produced. Everything looked old. In contrast with the very obviously English workers at
the Craft Barn, Cliff, the older man working in the leather and metal section of the store, told us
that many people mistake him for being Amish because of his white beard: the giveaway of his
Englishness was his mustache. As I walked around the room, I noticed Cliff chiming in to
commentate the tourists shopping experience. He would pick up on something they were
looking at--even if it was a brief pause--and he would proceed to tell the customer what exactly
the object was that they were looking at and where it came from. Oftentimes, he would name a
specific person who had made the object to emphasize the locality--and by extension the
authenticity--of the object. Cliff told me a lot about the area and how many of the stores have
become less authentic in tourists eyes because of the type of goods they are selling. From what
I observed, his role as an English tourate is to make the English tourist experience feel as
authentic as possible further contributing to the utopics of Shipshewana.
After interacting with a number of other English locals who were tourates, we stopped in
the Subway attached to a gas station directly across the street from the Blue Gate Marketplace.
There, we spoke to the two teenage workers. These workers were not tourates as we are defining
them because the subway is not there explicitly for the tourist experience of Shipshewana and to
promote the utopic space that the town is for the tourist and tourate. When we asked the
workers if they have a lot of Amish customers come in, they responded sarcastically, Yeah, this
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is their second place of worship. While we were taken aback at their seeming annoyance and
even hostility toward the Amish and Shipshewana in general, we realized the physical location of
this gas station, so strikingly juxtaposed to the tourist hub, may have contributed to their
sentiments. The Subway workers reactions contrasted with the English tourates reaction to the
space in that rather than embracing and promoting social imaginaries of the Amish, the workers
seemed to scoff at them.
This encounter relates in some ways to Eade and Sallnows ideas on contested space in
Contesting the Sacred. While this book refers to pilgrimage, the concepts can be applied to
tourism in Shipshewana as well because tourists who go there are seeking a sort of affect which,
similarly, many pilgrims seek to feel as well. In their introduction, Eade and Sallnow claim that
when resident devotees, or in Shipshewanas case, the willing participants in tourist culture,
strive so fiercely for the ideal of communitas, they earn the fulsome contempt and loathing of
the local townspeople (15). While this is a strong statement, we noted traces of this in the
conflicting ideas about Shipshewana as a place coming from the English local tourate and the
English local non-tourate. The English tourate in Shipshewana promotes the utopic space to
meet the tourists expectations in order to experience a sort of communitas with them in a
mutually understood utopic ideal. On the other hand, the English non-tourate local, at least the
ones we spoke to, seemed annoyed by and opposed to this fabricated utopic. Simon Coleman
notes in his article On Pilgrimage that responds to Eade and Sallnow, that discrepant
discourses may be juxtaposed without self-consciously orchestrated boundary making actually
occurring (Coleman 359). In other words, while there are not physical boundaries between the
two types of English locals--tourates and non-tourates--their ideas about the space seem to
clash; therefore, the space is contested.
Ultimately, whether or not they want to, both the English tourate and the English non-
tourate local contribute to the space that is Shipshewana. Both contributors are part of the local
economy while their realms are meant to support different target markets. The English tourate,
with positive views of the Amish and tourist culture, works to sustain the social imaginaries that
create the utopic space. Some English non-tourates carry disdain for these practices and create a
level of complexity in Shipshewana through contested space.

Amish Perspectives

Shergers Kettle is a jam shop on Morton Street in downtown Shipshewana attached to a


bakery and cafe with the same owners. Stepping into the jam shop, there is an unassuming
counter with a cash register directly across from the door; on the other three sides, one is
surrounded by shelves of dozens of different jams, jellies, salsas and peanut butters. I walked
around the unadorned room sampling a few of the salsas until a middle-aged Amish lady
showed up at the counter. She had come from what was apparently the production facilities,
behind some of the shelves, which delineated the large back-room from the somewhat small
retail area.
When I told the cashier, Miriam, that I was researching tourism in Amish country, her
first suggestion was that I talk with the owners of the facility, who were in the bakery next door.
While the owners were not Amish, she said that all of the jams were made by Amish and she
explained how Amish peanut butter is different from regular peanut butter, and that it has a
special place in the traditional Amish post-church meal. When asked about her feelings on
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tourists she expressed a sort of ambivalent comfort with their presence, explaining that most are
respectful and that the the Amish are now accustomed to working with the English.
About 23,000 Amish live in Elkhart and LaGrange counties (Neal 2015). Miriam is just
one of many that works in the tourist industry and while the Amish have been described as a
group that retreat[s] into a community, those who choose to become tourates have an
opportunity to interact those outside the community, as Miriam pointed out (Hostetler 1993, 7).
This point, the interactions between the Amish and the English as exemplified by Miriams work
at the jam store, exemplify the in-betweenness that Causey lists as an essential element of the
utopic space (2003, 25). In the touristic areas of Shipshewana, Amish and English interact
atypically, creating a space that is not quite Amish, but not quite English either. Indeed, it is a
utopic, in-between, space, and the Amish tourates, such as Miriam, are an essential part of
constructing this space.
To English visitors like ourselves, Ruby does not seem all that different from Miriam. A
middle-aged Amish tourate, she works part-time at Old Wolfe Barn, a touristic shop advertising
itself as featuring Shipshewana Area Artisans. Like Miriam, she suggested I talk to the owners
of the store, but unlike Miriam, Rubys employers are Amish. While the store itself is Amish-
owned, the barn-shaped building that houses the establishment is not. The exterior features a
porch with a couple of wooden rocking chairs and plenty of houses and other knick-knacks on
display. The inside is one large room, featuring a huge array of touristic goods, wooden furniture
as well as some jams and salsas similar to those offered at Shergers Kettle.
Ruby is friendly and eager to talk about her role at the store and those who come to visit.
She says she meets people from all over the area, especially the neighboring states of Ohio and
Michigan and she seems to enjoy her work at Old Wolfe, where she started about four months
prior. She notes that while some visitors are disappointed because they are looking for a
different store that was previously in this location, the majority of customers enjoy the local flair
of Old Wolfes offerings. She says that customers tend to enjoy that the goods are made in the
area and not, if I can say this, in China or somewhere. Ruby admits that not everything in the
store is made locally, but then proceeds to point to countless items in all corners of the store that
are. She seems to know many of the families that make a lot of the goods, telling us where they
live and even giving a couple of names.
Dean MacCannell argues that a tourist attraction is a sight, plus a tourist and a marker
(2010, 59). As a sight, the most obvious marker on the Old Wolfe Barn is the sign out front
advertising Shipshewana Area Artisans, setting it apart from non-touristic stores and linking it
to a specific place. Furthermore, handmade goods as well as the Amish-ness of Ruby herself
mark the establishment as different from ones that tourists would find at home.
These markers not only make the Old Wolfe barn a tourist attraction, they also
supplement its authenticity. Locally produced items and Amish workers reflect the simplicity,
poverty, chastity [and] purity that MacCannell points to as reflections of authenticity (2010,
59). Following MacCannell, anthropological studies of tourism have often viewed the search for
authenticity as a key piece of the tourist experience (Causey 2003, 36). If authenticity is a draw
for tourists, then it is also a crucial aspect of the utopic space in Shipshewana; without tourists
there would be no utopic space. By selling goods made nearby and employing local Amish
people, Shergers Kettle, Old Wolfe Barn and other establishments in Shipshewana give tourists
an authentic experience that is an essential component of the utopic space. The Amish tourates
that work in Shipshewana, including Ruby, Miriam and the owners of Old Wolfe Barn, are
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important participants in the construction of this authenticity and therefore in the creation of
the utopic space where they interact with tourists.
Amish tourates are vital in molding the unique atmosphere of Shipshewana, but this role
does not leave them unaffected by the power of that utopic space. Ezra, an older Amish man who
works as a carriage driver at the Blue Gate Inn, is one example. Ezra has been giving buggie
rides to tourists for six years and we asked him about his views on photography. While
photography is a quintessential activity or posture of a tourist, it is banned within the Amish
community, so we expected this to be a natural point of tension between tourists and Amish
tourates (Abbink 2000, 124). Ezra explained that while he will never pose for photographs, he is
not offended if tourists do take his photo and he will not necessarily ask them to stop.
Causeys explanation of utopic space describes it as a place where individuals can
playfully explore possible ways of being, often on the boundaries of what would be acceptable
in their home cultures (Causey 2003, 29, 166). Ezras behavior exemplifies this aspect of utopic
space. Ezra would never be photographed by his fellow Amish, however when in the touristic
arena of downtown Shipshewana, he pushes the limits of his cultural constraints on
photography and passively allows himself to be photographed.
One further example of Amish inhabiting the touristic space comes from Davis
Mercantile, a three-story mall in the heart of Shipshewana featuring dozens of touristic shops
and an indoor carousel ride. The malls website claims that a visit is a lifelong snapshot of what
it is like to be a carefree kid, clearly communicating the notion of fantasy and unrealizable
desire that is essential to utopic space (Davis Mercantile 2016; Causey 2003, 167). We stopped
in at a coffee shop on the first floor for an afternoon energizer. The proprietor of the coffee shop
owns a few of the stores in Davis Mercantile, he is English but employs a lot of Amish, and the
two employees working at the coffee shop were both teenaged Amish girls. We talked with one of
them briefly about her experience with tourism, she had only been working there for a couple of
weeks, but what most interested us was their use of technology. Amish views on technology are
more nuanced than many popular conceptions suppose, but use of public electricity and
computers is typically restricted in Amish communities (The Young Center). However, in the
coffee shop the girls who served us coffee were clearly aided by electricity, machines and a
touchscreen tablet.
Though we did not ask them specifically about their use of technology, we would assume
that because they are not the owners of the establishment or the technology, its use would be
accepted by their community. Because their place of employment is a touristic place, it seems
that their use of technology is intrinsically linked to the tourist industry; therefore it is the
neutral space of the utopic realm that allows them to engage with technology in ways that would
not be allowed in a strictly Amish setting.

Conclusions

It is clear that all three groups discussed have very different experiences and perspectives
on Shipshewana and yet all three have roles of paramount importance in shaping the neutral,
touristic space. Further research might explore whether the utopic space paradigm might apply
to other Amish communities throughout the nation or if there is something unique about the
conditions in Shipshewana. Another interesting addition to this research might focus on groups
on which we were unable to obtain data, most notably Amish tourists and local Amish non-
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tourates. It would be interesting to learn how both of these groups engage and view the utopic
touristic space.
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