Lancaster County, PA; New Deal photography; Bureau of Agricultural Economics; Works Progress Administration; Irving Rusinow; Charles Loomis


The American Farm Community Study (1940), funded by the USDA’s Bureau of Agricultural Economics, was a social investigation that sought to determine why some rural communities thrive while others fail. To conduct the Study, the Bureau sent social scientists to six rural communities across the country to investigate and document the most and least “stable” American communities. Geographer Walter Kollmorgen, sociologist Charles Loomis, and photographer Irving Rusinow documented the Old Order Amish of Lancaster County, PA, as the “most stable” community in the Study. In Lancaster, the men found a people thriving in the midst of english neighbors still economically reeling from depression and war. In existing research, Kollmorgen’s neutral/distant data collection effort receives the most attention. This study focuses on the subjectivity of Charles Loomis’ and Irving Rustow’s data collection. Loomis collected data in a personal-style diary while working as a farmhand on a former english farm taken over by an Amishman. Rusinow photographed landscapes that visually portrayed how Amish took over dilapidated english farmsteads, suggesting Amish community stability went hand-in-hand with economic conquest. Together, in word and image, Loomis and Rusinow described the Amish via narratives of conquest, empire, nascent Nationalism, and (re)valuations of the (Anglo) American dream. [Abstract by author.]