On Moustache Grooming and Mennonite History: 5 Questions with Archivist Conrad Stoesz

Conrad Stoesz has been archivist at the Mennonite Heritage Archives in Winnipeg since 1999. He is on the board of the Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society and the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada and is co-editor of the Mennonite Historian.

1)What is the most interesting discovery you’ve made at the Mennonite Heritage Archives?  Myself.

2) When the public come to visit the archives, what are they most interested in seeing and learning about? That’s such as broad question it is hard to answer.  When people come to the archives, they are most impressed when they see something or learn something that connects to them personally. Information on a relative, or a topic they are interested in. Often they ask about the oldest or biggest item that we have.

3) What aspect of Mennonite history do you think is under-appreciated? I think one of the biggest challenges is understanding people’s thoughts, motivations, and actions of the past.  The past is more complicated than we often realize.  We often assume people of the past thought much like the way we do or that things were more straightforward in the past.  Today, post-modern thinking increasingly is becoming a dominant mindset for many westerners. Yet, when we look at our Mennonite past, we are trying to understand people who had a modern, pre-modern, or pre-industrial understanding of the world. In the past people had different assumptions and people in the future will have different assumptions than we have today. When we can acknowledge that people of the past thought differently and that their way of thinking is valid, judging the past becomes much more difficult and maybe we can become more humble in our views today.

4) If you could travel anywhere to research and learn more about Mennonite history, where would you go? There are a number of places on my bucket list such as archival centres in the Netherlands, archival and field trips in Poland, Ukraine, and Russia.

5) How much time do you spend on moustache grooming? Hahaha, this morning it was 1 minutes 27 seconds.