Amana in the Newspapers Lesson

Goal: Students will understand what makes the Amana Colonies different from other communities and the causes of those differences.

Introduction

Newspapers Lesson Newspapers Lesson

Nearly a million people visit the Amana Colonies every year. They travel from around the world to see the buildings of the National Historic District, enjoy local restaurants, shopping, and theater, ride their bicycles on the Kolonieweg trail, or learn more about the area's unique history.

Outsiders have been interested in the Amana Colonies since they were established in the 1850s. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, journalists from around the country came to the community to write about its communal system and describe how it worked. They were interested in the community's religion, agricultural practices, and communal arrangements. The questions they asked of the colonists and the things they chose to write about represent the things their readers would have been interested in, often because they offered interesting comparisons and contrasts to life in other American communities.

Themes that appear in many of the articles are: the idea of the Amana Colonies as a bountiful garden, its success as a communal society when so many others had failed in the United States, the community's pietist religion, and the German background of the colonists, which was not unusual for Iowa, except that the community "looked" German. The arrangement of the villages and the dress of the community members, particularly as time progressed, contrasted with mainstream American practices. Also more prevalent over time was the theme of the Amana Colonies as a quaint relic of the past. Over time, public interest in the community's religion and its image as a garden has waned, but curiosity about its German roots and communal past continue. Modern newspaper articles focus on tourist opportunities and the community's uniqueness.

Historical events and changes in mainstream American culture have shaped the way journalists have written about the Amana Colonies. World War I led to some anti-Amana sentiment stemming from their communal organization, German ethnicity, and the conscientious objector status of the community's young men. Writers coming from a capitalist economy sometimes struggled to understand why the community would not adopt more efficient practices, especially regarding the amount of labor involved in farming and manufacturing activities. The relative success of the Amana Colonies compared to other religious and utopian communities also raised the esteem in which a number of writers held the community. While not necessarily advocating for communal societies, journalists often admired the community's longevity and prosperity.

Journalists that write about the Amana Colonies today often focus on the tourism opportunities offered in the villages. They describe the historical background of the Amana Society to help explain the community but do not often draw the connection between the history of the Amana Colonies and the amenities they have to offer, such as the Lily Lake, the Kolonieweg, the mill race, or the Nature Trail, but it is key to understanding how these things came to be and why they survive today. The Amana Society's ownership and management of its land offers opportunities to consider different ways to build communities, operate farms, and manage forests.

Materials
Lesson Steps
  1. Lead students in a discussion of what journalists write about communities. Discuss the difference between different types of newspaper articles and their purposes. Read aloud one of the newspaper articles and talk about why the writer chose to describe particular parts of the colonies, whether the tone is positive, neutral, or negative, and what that says about who the journalist is writing for and what is going on in the country or world that might affect how they have written about the Amana Society.

  2. Distribute copies of the historic newspaper articles for students to read. Students can research current newspaper and magazine coverage of the Amana Colonies on the internet.

  3. Have students write a list of questions they would ask if they were journalists visiting the Amana Colonies today. This can be done as a class, or individually. Some of the topics they could explore are: How the Amana Society farm functions in comparison to surrounding farms, what recreational opportunities are offered, why do people visit the Amana Colonies, what sort of food is served in Amana Colonies restaurants, what is the Amana Society, what is the wetland reserve, what sort of special events take place, what historic structures are still standing and what are they used for today? It may be helpful to discuss the "who, what, when, where, why, and how" model for writing newspaper articles.

  4. Have student's write their own newspaper article. Provide them with the word count they are expected to produce (which is what journalists work with) and the audience (national, large city, Eastern Iowa town or city, etc.) for whom they are writing. Ask them to describe the Amana Colonies in ways that would be relevant to the audience and that incorporates the community's history. Students can be given a choice of audiences, such as tourists, outdoor enthusiasts, artists, farmers, or children their own age. Students can gather information about Amana from the internet, books about Amana Colonies history (see Additional Resources below), or on a field trip.
Lesson Extensions
  1. Visit the Amana Heritage Museum after giving the students their assignment. They can take photos of the Amana Colonies to accompany their articles.

  2. Have students interview someone in Amana to gather information about the Amana Colonies today.

  3. Have students write a similar article about their own town.

  4. Students can create an iMovie about the Amana Colonies, or their own town, in the style of a television news segment.
Additional Resources

Life in Amana : Reporters' View of the Communal Way, 1867-1935, compiled by Joan Liffring-Zug Bourret
(Iowa City: Penfield Press, 1998)

Abigail Foerstner, Picturing Utopia: Bertha Shambaugh & the Amana Photographers
(Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2000)

Lanny Haldy, "In All the Papers: Newspaper Accounts of Communal Amana, 1867-1924," Communal Societies, 1994, pp. 20-35

Peter Hoehnle, The Amana People: The History of a Religious Community
(Iowa City: Penfield Press, 2003)

Bertha M. H. Shambaugh, Amana, The Community of True Inspiration
(Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa, 1908)

Iowa CORE Standards, Essential Concepts, and Essential Skills addressed by this lesson

K-5 Writing

#2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

#7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.


6-12 Writing

#2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

#4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

#7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

#8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while

#10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.


K-2 Social Studies

Understand the changing nature of society.

Understand that people and institutions change over time.

Understand past, present and future.

Understand that people in different times and places view the world differently.


3-5 Social Studies

Understand the changing nature of society.

Understand various institutions, ideas, values and behavior patterns change over time.

Understand that the decisions of one generation provide the range of possibilities open to the next generation.

Understand that human beings can use the memory of their past experiences to make judgments about new situations.


K-2 Geography

Understand how geographic processes and human actions modify the environment and how the environment affects humans.


3-5 and 6-8 Geography

Understand how physical processes and human actions modify the environment and how the environment affects humans.

Understand how geographic and human characteristics create culture and define regions.


9-12 Geography

Understand how human actions modify the environment and how the environment affects humans.

Understand social, cultural and economic processes shape the features of places.

Understand how cultural factors influence the design of human communities.

Understand how geographic and human characteristics create culture and define regions.


K-2 History

Understand people construct knowledge of the past from multiple and various types of sources.

Understand culture and how cultural diffusion affects the development and maintenance of societies.

Understand individuals and groups within a society may promote change or the status quo.

Understand cause and effect relationships and other historical thinking skills in order to interpret events and issues.

Understand relationship between geography and historical events.


3-5 History

Understand historical patterns, periods of time and the relationships among these elements.

Understand the role of culture and cultural diffusion on the development and maintenance of societies.

Understand the effect of economic needs and wants on individual and group decisions.

Understand the effects of geographic factors on historical events.

Understand the role of innovation on the development and interaction of societies.


8 History

Understand the effects of geographic factors on historical events.

Understand the role of innovation on the development and interaction of societies.


9-12 History

Understand the role of culture and cultural diffusion on the development and maintenance of societies.