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Students conduct research and service learning with German communities

photo of old german bible

Students from Penn State Berks are conducting community-based undergraduate research and service learning simultaneously with Old Order German communities in Berks County, while gaining valuable insights into a world that many view as quaintly old-fashioned and rigidly closed, as well as about themselves, in the process. 

The participating students are enrolled the college’s research and service course titled "Old Order German Communities in Berks County.” They include Collin Haas, a junior majoring in Global Studies; Samantha Kerling, senior, Global Studies; Michal Komemi, junior, American Studies; Owen Reitenauer, senior, Global Studies; Jennifer Screvane, senior, Global Studies; Michael Siaway, senior, Global Studies; and Erin Wade, senior, Global Studies. 

In early October, Dr. Randall Fegley, Associate Professor of History and Politics at Penn State Berks, accompanied six Berks students, as well as fifteen members of the Amish community and three members of the Mennonite community, on a bus tour of Berks County. In the course of conducting research, the group discovered a single grave from a paved-over cemetery in Shillington and a 431-year-old family bible in Mohrsville.

Fegley states that he is hoping that the research will result in a published book by both students and community members, which will include topics such as: the European origins of Berks Old Order German communities, relations between Native Americans and Berks Old Order German communities, Berks Old Order German communities during the Revolutionary War and the two World Wars, and what happened to the Amish population of Berks County, as well as specific sections on modernization, quilts, and farmers' markets.

 In addition to research, the course involves service learning at the Stoltzfus House on Tulpehocken Road. Students removed a tree, dug a ditch to lay conduit, and cleaned up the site. The first permanent building on Tulpehocken Creek, this house has become a center for Old Order Germans in Berks and beyond. Earlier this year, a Swiss-style bank barn was raised on the site to house a caretaker/curator and museum exhibits. 

Two more Saturday workdays are planned. This project, which is also affiliated with the college’s Laboratory for Public Scholarship and Democracy, will continue through the end of the semester.

 For more information, contact Fegley at 610-396-6092 or via e-mail at RAF8@psu.edu.

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