Thomas Brendle Symposium Summary


8th Brendle Symposium a Complete Success


The eighth Thomas R. Brendle Biennial Folklife Symposium was held on Saturday, November 3, 2013 at the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center in Pennsburg. This year, for the first time, it was held in conjunction with the Schwenkfelder L&HC. When it became apparent in the early stages of preparation that both organizations were planning somewhat similar symposia for late 2013 we decided to jointly sponsor this year’s session of the Goschenhoppen Historians’ Brendle Folklife Symposium with the theme, “Studying the Pennsylvania Dutch, Scholars of the Oral, Written, and Material Culture.”

A group of more than sixty attendees spent the day interacting with the six presenters. The first speaker was none other than University of Pennsylvania Emeritus Professor Don Yoder, no stranger to the Goschenhoppen Historians. Dr. Yoder, at 92, presented an excellent portrayal of Marion Dexter Learned, Dean of the German Department at Penn from 1895 to 1917 and one of the key players in creating the field of Pennsylvania Dutch Studies.

Don Yoder was followed by Iren Snavely, Rare Books Librarian for the State Library of Pennsylvania, who spoke on the “Legacy of Samuel W. Pennypacker’s Writings on Pennsylvania.” Governor Pennypacker, throughout his life, collected a vast array of important Pennsylvania-related books, manuscripts, fractur and material, together with his extensive writings on subjects as diverse as his sometimes-controversial world political views to traditional agricultural practices. He apparently never threw anything away.

Historian Linda Dyke ably portrayed Henry Chapman Mercer, founder of the Moravian Tile Works and the Mercer Museum, both in Doylestown. Linda worked for a number of years as a curator at the Mercer Fonthill Museum and learned first-hand what a tremendous contribution Henry Mercer made to understanding the material culture of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Thanks to his vision and tenacity in uncovering and preserving so many eLinda Dyke Addressing Grouparly tools and describing their use and development over time we have a relatively complete record of early trades. His books, “Tools of the Nation Maker,” “The Bible In Iron,” and “Ancient Carpenter’s Tools,” are the benchmarks by which any other treatises on early American material culture and manufacturing are measured.

Following a luncheon prepared by Historian Susan Cook and Dave Luz of the SL&HC and their helpers, Bruce Bomberger, Curator of the Landis Valley Museum in Lancaster, spoke on brothers Henry and George Landis who, like Henry Mercer, lamented the rapid loss of the rural Pennsylvania Dutch material culture in which they grew up, and dedicated their lives to preserving it. The result of their efforts, the extensive Landis Valley Museum, comprises more than two-dozen actively utilized eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings and the many thousands of cultural artifacts necessary to keeping such a sizable rural community functioning.

Ms. Hedda Durnbaugh is Archivist at Juniata College where a large portion of historian and bibliophile Abraham H. Cassel’s large collection of volumes, manuscripts, and fractur on early Pennsylvania Dutch religious life and history is housed. Her presentation chronicled not only the collection of such a vast array of written material but also the difficulties encountered in its collective preservation. Colleges and universities, like any other human institutions, are subject to changing times and transitory interests. What may be seen as valuable esoterica at one point can become superfluous ephemera at another.

The last speaker of the day was Mark Louden, professor of German at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Louden is not only a fluent speaker of Pennsylvania Dutch but is most knowledgeable on the development and gradual transition of multiple Germanic dialects into a singular Pennsylvania Dutch dialect that endured as a principal cultural language for upwards of one hundred and fifty years, into the twentieth century. Much of Dr. Louden’s research has centered on German language newspapers from the Reading and Lancaster areas and, most importantly from the standpoint of the Goschenhoppen region, the Bauern Freund, published in Sumneytown by Enos Benner. During the thirty-year period from 1828 to 1858, Bauern Freund was published weekly, without missing a single issue. Perusing all 1,560 issues Dr. Louden was able to chart the changing attitudes to acceptance of Dutch as a valid language for other than popular and interpersonal relations. While all the local newspapers in the Dutch areas were written in standard German, over time more Dutch was introduced, indicating its broader use and acceptance in the entire culture. English, as we know, eventually came to dominate all such publications and Dutch, where it continues in use today, remains largely a spoken but unwritten language.

All of the speakers were engaged in extended question and answer sessions at the conclusion of their prepared remarks, indicating the attendees’ active interest in the subject matter. Numerous coffee and snack breaks throughout the day provided additional opportunities for continued discussion with the presenters, further nourishing bodies and minds. These symposia are interesting and valuable complements to the study and preservation of Pennsylvania Dutch Folklife here in the Goschenhoppen region. Stay in touch, as there will be another, completely different, topic for the next Thomas R. Brendle Folklife Symposium in early November 2015.

Bill Daley

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