From the Inside Out


350 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88755-664-7
DDC 305.6'87071




Edited by Royden Loewen
Reviewed by Barbara Robertson

Barbara Robertson is the author of Wilfrid Laurier: The Great
Conciliator and the co-author of The Well-Filled Cupboard.


The diaries included in From the Inside Out focus on two areas: the
Swiss–American Mennonite community in Waterloo County, Ontario,
founded between 1800 and 1812, and the far more homogenous
Dutch–Russian Mennonite community of Hanover, Manitoba, formed between
1874 and 1879.

The range of the diarists chosen from these two groups is considerable;
old and young, men and women, even a few merchants, evangelists, and
bishops are among those represented. Even so, the preoccupation is
heavily agricultural. Weather conditions are steadily noted, as are
seasonal activities like hauling wood, planting, and pig butchering.
Other persistent features of the diaries include visiting (particularly
among families, usually large and situated nearby) and churchgoing.

One distinguishing characteristic of these Mennonite diarists is their
wide geographical reach. The earliest of the Manitobans not uncommonly
keep in touch with their kinsmen in Russia. By the end of the period,
there is a partial exodus from Manitoba—a result of the Manitoba
School Attendance Act of 1916—to such places as Paraguay and Mexico.
There are also connections with communities in Kansas and Nebraska. And
yet so focused are the diarists on their own community that one gets
little sense of the country in which they lived—apart, of course, from
its weather.

Royden Loewen provides an excellent introduction and notes throughout
the volume. He maintains that because the diaries were written “by
ordinary men and women engaged in everyday farming life,” the reader
is able to see “the often hidden contours of household and community
‘inside out.’” Indeed, cumulatively the diaries do provide
considerable insight into Mennonite life and culture. On the other hand,
the general reader may find them a rather austere diet, for their
authors are rarely expressive and tend to avoid analysis, discussion,
and judgment rigorously.


“From the Inside Out,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,