23 March 2020

The Centre for Transnational Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Ben Nobbs-Thiessen as the new Chair in Mennonite Studies, effective July 1, 2020. Ben, who was born and raised in Port Coquitlam, BC, holds a BA and MA in history from the University of British Columbia, a PhD in history from Emory University, and has held post-doctoral fellowships at the Arizona State University and Washington State University. His MA thesis focused on MCC’s work in Paraguay in the 1950s, his PhD on Mennonite settlers in eastern Bolivia, and his post-doctoral work on Mennonite migrants from Mexico in Texas and Ontario. Ben’s new book, Landscape of Migration: Mobility and Environmental Change on Bolivia’s Tropical Frontier since 1952, published by University North Carolina Press, is scheduled for release this April. Ben will teach ‘Latin America and the Mennonites’ this fall and ‘Mennonite Studies II’ in the winter term. Ben is married to Karen Nobbs-Thiessen and father to Avery, 4, and Dylan, 2. Ben replaces Royden Loewen who retires on June 30, 2020.

Issued by Royden Loewen, Chair in Mennonite Studies, University of Winnipeg

In Memoriam

Dr. Harry Loewen: 1930-2015.

The first Chair in Mennonite Studies, Dr. Harry Loewen, (Professor Emeritus) died yesterday afternoon, September 16, in Kelowna, British Columbia, after a lengthy struggle with cancer. Born in 1930 in the Soviet Union, Loewen came to Canada as a refugee after the Second World War and led a life of service and scholarship until his death. He served the University of Winnipeg as Professor of History and inaugural holder of the Chair in Mennonite Studies from 1978-1996. He was a founding editor of the Journal of Mennonite Studies, organized annual symposia in the field, and lectured at educational institutions throughout North and South America as well as in Europe during his distinguished academic career. An accomplished scholar of German, Russian, and Mennonite literature and history, Loewen authored and edited fourteen books, the last of which, a lengthy study of Martin Luther, he completed during the course of his illness. That study was published by WLU Press earlier this year and launched at an event at Mosaic Books in Kelowna. A memorial service is planned for the First Mennonite Church in Kelowna in October. Dr. Loewen leaves behind many friends and colleagues, past and present, at The University of Winnipeg.

Harry Loewen - 1978
Dr. Harry Loewen just before being appointed Chair in Mennonite Studies in 1978.
Harry Loewen - 2013
Dr. Harry Loewen near the date of receiving his Historical Research Award from the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada in 2013.

Reflection by Royden Loewen, Chair in Mennonite Studies, University of Winnipeg

Harry Loewen (1930-2015), the founding Chair in Mennonite Studies, author of numerous books, a beloved colleague to many of us, and a loving husband to Gertrude and father and grandfather will be missed. Harry accomplished a great deal in his life, but more importantly he was an inspiration to many young scholars, as teacher, publisher and writer for many decades. His ability to reach both popular and academic audiences has been remarkable.He has written on a wide range of topics, including comparing 16th Century Anabaptism and Lutheranism, early 20th century work on Mennonites in the Soviet Union, and his own story of coming to Canada with his widowed mother. He also addressed more contemporary topics such as Mennonite literature, and Mennonite identity with his collection, 'Why I am a Mennonite.' Harry has shown a commitment to scholarship in many other ways: as the founding Chair in Mennonite Studies (1978-1995) he pioneered the idea of teaching Mennonite history in public spaces and as the founding editor of the Journal of Mennonite Studies (1983-1995) he also pioneered a platform for Mennonite scholars in Canada to engage in valuable academic discourse. Harry has always been a friendly and engaging scholar. Perhaps most importantly, he has always been an inspiration to the generation that followed him.

Global study examines life in seven Mennonite communities

UWinnipeg study to focus on relationships to land and food production

Posted on: 06/26/13| Author: Communications


The University of Winnipeg’s Dr. Royden Loewen is leading an international study which will see seven graduate students live in Mennonite villages in Java, Siberia, Bolivia, Zimbabwe, the Netherlands, Kansas and Manitoba for four months to conduct oral histories and gather ethnographic research. Loewen, History professor and Chair of UWinnipeg’s Mennonite Studies program, has received a $239,000 grant from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to support the project which begins this fall.

The three-year study will focus primarily on the relationships villagers have to the land and how it shapes them and how that further interacts with government policies, the climate, and culture including religion. All seven selected communities are agricultural and have survived the global pressure towards urbanization that has seen the collapse of farm communities around the world. The Manitoba community participating in the study is Neubergthal, near Altona, which was founded in 1876 by Mennonite farmers and is also a National Historic Site.

“It is very exciting to contribute to a global discussion on something as relevant as food production and relationships with the land,” said Loewen, whose team of graduate students will speak the language of their host community. “This is a very contemporary issue, as seen through the lens of history, and to have the opportunity to document these Mennonite case studies is very fulfilling.”


Preparing for a drive from Old Colony Mennonite ‘horse and buggy’ community near the Argentine border in Bolivia, August 2009

Loewen, who is poised to become a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge University from July to December 2013, will assemble his student team this October in Europe. The research and oral histories will form part of a book Loewen intends to author called Seven Points on Earth. The project will culminate with an international conference on Mennonites and the Land at UWinnipeg in October 2016, where the seven students will present their experiences.

“UWinnipeg faculty continue to have great success in undertaking significant research that is international in scope, and gives students a leading role in being part of innovative work, in this case, that will give us a better understanding of Mennonite communities worldwide,” said Dr. Jino Distasio, Associate Vice-President, Research and Innovation, UWinnipeg.

Distasio noted that faculty members are successfully pursuing research grants at an accelerated rate, bringing new funds to campus. Research dollars are up from $4.4 million to $7.1 million in the last five years. That is a 60% increase in external research funding flowing through UWinnipeg.

Since 1978, Mennonite Studies has been offered at UWinnipeg as an interdisciplinary program that combines studies in history, religion, culture, and literature as they relate to Mennonites.

Diane Poulin, Communications Officer, The University of Winnipeg
P: 204.988.7135, E:



Susie Fisher and Sean Patterson

Susie Fisher and Sean Patterson meet in the office of the Chair in Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg on October 3 to receive news of their fellowship awards.

The recipients of two graduate Mennonite Studies fellowships at the University of Winnipeg have been announced. The recipients are Susie Fisher Stoesz, a Doctoral student and recipient of the D.F. Plett Graduate Fellowship valued at $15,000, and Sean Patterson, a Masters of Arts student, and winner of the C.P. Loewen Graduate Fellowship valued at $12,500. Both students are planning exciting new research at the University of Winnipeg and promising to shed new light on old stories.

Fisher Stoesz, an incoming Doctoral student, plans to focus on an inter-generational history of southern Manitoba families. She will describe their moves from farm village in southern Manitoba, to the nearby towns of Altona and Winkler, and then onto Winnipeg. Especially new is her focus on “emotional history,” a subject matter Mennonite historians usually shy from addressing. Fisher Stoesz will consider such feelings as fear, joy, love, nostalgia, embarrassment and anger and see how they were expressed during trying times of relocation. She will also investigate which emotions Mennonites valued and which ones they disparaged, and how these emotions affected social relations . She will base her research on German and English language newspapers, memoirs and letter collections, and oral history.

Patterson, an MA student nearing the end of his program is raising the old question of Nestor Machno, the Ukrainian militant leader who terrorized the Mennonites during the Russian Revolution. Unlike earlier studies on Machno, Patterson will compare and contrast the Mennonite and Ukrainians perspectives on Machno. Where Mennonites have seen an unruly and rag tag team of terrorists, the Ukrainians have come to venerate Machno as a leader of a nationalist army. Patterson will examine how times or war and unrest result in very different historical narratives, depending on which side of the battle one finds oneself. He will base his research on letters written by Mennonites to German language newspapers and on memoirs by Ukrainian nationalists, including Machno himself.