Print, Text, Community: A Study of Communication in the Zionsbote, a Mennonite Weekly, Between 1884 and 1906
Dueck, Dora. Print, Text, Community: A Study of Communication in the Zionsbote, a Mennonite Weekly, Between 1884 and 1906; A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts, Department of History, Universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg. Winnipeg, March 2001.
This thesis analyzes the Zionsbote, a weekly religious periodical serving Mennonite Brethren in America and Russia, as communication. The parts of the communication transaction (producer, receiver, medium, context, and effects) are delineated and given context, and their convergence is observed. The central question is: what was happening as this little paper was being written and read week after week. Zionsbote communication engaged with matters of time and space through the pervasive discourse of journey. The Mennonite Brethren in this period were deeply marked by the experience of migration. This reality shaped the discourse. At the same time, the transportable, paper, print medium of the Zionsbote constructed a new “imagined” community. Travel writing negotiated the new experiences time and space. A narrative of spiritual pilgrimage continuously drew attention to the time and place when all would be together in one “home”. Second, Zionsbote communication revealed an overlap of Mennonite Brethren practices of orality and literacy. The Mennonite Brethren had a culture of participatory congregational life as well as an emphasis on a personal appropriation, or hearing, of biblical text. In Zionsbote communication, print often seemed in the thrall of oral experience. Contributors wrote as if they were speaking. The newspaper exhibited a carelessness to the visual aspects of print communication, a reliance on earlier social assumptions, a close connection with the Church's itinerant activity, and frequent recourse to biblical text in the expectation that readers could move from reading to listening via these references. Third, Zionsbote communication contributed to the formation of the group's identity through the reading and writing of stories. The Mennonite Brethren were a relatively new group with an emphasis on family-like intimacy; they felt separate and distinct from other Mennonites and the larger world. The process of identity-formation is seen in the process of writing and reading personal experiences that created shared meaning, strengthened bonds inside the group, and established boundaries that defined and excluded outsiders. The study of this periodical illuminates just a few of the complex themes that may emerge in the investigation of communication. It shows that communication is multi-layered, dynamic, and historically situated.