Romanies and Gypsiologists

Oke Romano chiriklo! Dikasa e KalenOke Romano chiriklo! Dikasa e Kalen.'Behold a wagtail and you shall see the Gypsies', emblem and motto of the Gyspy Lore Society, in Welsh Romani. Some of the Gypsy Lore Society's John Sampson's material on Welsh Romani is included on the Manchester Romani Project website.

'Romanies' or Roma loosely describes the peoples of what has been described as, "a European nation without its own state", including many groups of Gypsies, such as the Sinti, who do not call themselves Roma. Some estimates of the size of the Romani population suggest a figure of around 12 million individuals. A fascination with the history, language and distinct cultural traditions of this population unites a second group, the 'Gypsiologists', whose research collections are highlighted this month, with links to exhibitions and events, including the famous Appleby Horse Fair, held annually in June.

The term 'Gypsy' was used non-pejoratively by the members of the Gypsy Lore Society (1888-1892 Edinburgh; 1907-1974 Liverpool), which brought together linguists, historians, anthropologists, genealogists, artists and photographers and published their work in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society. The Society's archive and library at the University of Liverpool form one of the two most important research collections for Romani history in the UK. In addition to administrative material and correspondence, it includes transcriptions of folktales and songs, notebooks of Romani vocabulary, illustrations, photographs and press cuttings collected by John Sampson (1862-1931), Dora Yates (1879-1974), Robert Andrew Scott Macfie (1868-1935), George Hall, Eric Otto Winstedt, F.G. Ackerley, William Ferguson, H.T. Crofton, Fred Shaw, Bernard Gilliatt-Smith and others. The Archives Hub lists separately the papers and photographs of Hanns Weltzel (1910-1952) and Georg Althaus (1898-1974), also at held at Liverpool University. This collection is important in the long history of persecution of the Sinti and Roma, particularly under the Nazi regime, which is reckoned to be responsible for the deaths of around half a million Romanies.

George Borrow (1803-1881) was often cited as an inspiration by early members of the Gypsy Lore Society, and the Archives Hub lists the substantial Borrovian collections of Angus Fraser (1928-2001) at the University of Leeds. Other Gypsy Lore Society members left important research collections elsewhere, for example the papers of T.W. Thompson (died 1968) at the Bodleian Library, Oxford University.

The other important research collection for Romani history in the UK is the Romany collection in Leeds University Library, which has its origins in a collection assembled privately by Mrs D.U. McGrigor Phillips and presented by her in 1950, together with an endowment to fund its development. At that time the Collection contained some 650 items, but, through purchasing and further gifts, its size had almost doubled when the printed Catalogue of the Romany Collection was published (Edinburgh, Nelson, 1962). The collection's size had progressed to some 2,000 items by 2002, when the gift to Leeds of Sir Angus Fraser's remarkable Gypsy library of over 1,500 items was received.

The Romany Collection includes virtually all the classic printed works on the Gypsies, both British and European, together with many more obscure items and, for comprehensiveness, some common ones. While there are printed works that are not held elsewhere in the UK, such as the 1520 Augsburg edition of Die rotwelsch Grammatic and the series of edicts regarding Gypsies issued in Vienna from 1614 to 1724, the major strength of the collection is in bringing together for study in a single place a great many related rare printed works that are only accessible otherwise as copies distributed individually or in small numbers around a variety of other libraries in the country. Thus, first and other early editions of the standard works of Samuel Roberts, Leyland, Hoyland, John Sampson and others are all held and, if necessary, can be seen by the visitor in rapid succession.

Notable features of the collection include the earliest editions of the works of George Borrow, including his Spanish Romany translation of St Luke's Gospel, 1837, a large group of ephemeral works relating to the case of Elizabeth Canning, and many major foreign language works by Grellmann, Paspates, Miklosisch, Wlisloczki, Pott, Collocci and contemporaries. Literary works include Middleton and Rowley's The Spanish Gypsie, 1653, Glanvill's Vanity of dogmatizing, 1661 (the inspiration for Matthew Arnold's ‘The Scholar Gypsy’), and many 19th-century novels with Gypsy themes or characters. There is a large collection of relevant printed music, chiefly songs, and another of related periodicals from the eighteenth century to the present.

The printed works are complemented by manuscript collections. The outstanding collections are the group of autograph Borrow manuscripts, which includes drafts and notes for Lavengro, Romany Rye, Romano Lavo-lil and The Bible in Spain; T.W. Thompson's notebooks recording conversations with Gypsies and folktales told by them in the early 20th century (complementing material at the Bodleian Library); and, later, archives of the National Gypsy Council.

There are over 140 documents in Spanish relating to the regulation of Gypsies and other travellers in Spain, 1600 – 1784, from the extensive library of Sir Angus Fraser (1928-2001). Besides being distinguished for many classic works, this collection includes extensive coverage of the persecution of Gypsies during the Holocaust and annotated copies of Sir Angus's own works (partly researched in the Romany Collection). This gift from Sir Angus's family, following his premature death, enormously enriched the Romany Collection and was a generous endorsement of its standing.

The Romany Collection is essentially interdisciplinary. While particularly important for Gypsy studies as such, it touches on many more general studies in cultural, religious and social history, language and literature, medical and legal history. While the concern of scholars, its relevance to contemporary travellers themselves is explored through links with Education Leeds's Traveller Education Service, the relationship of Gypsies with the rest of society being an enduring social issue.

More collections

  • John Roberts (1816-1894): Welsh harpist known as Telynor Cymru and Alaw Elwy; correspondence with Gypsiologist author Francis Groome (1851-1902), including examples of Welsh Romani.
  • John 'Ferguson (1837-1916): chemist with an interest in Romany folklore.
  • Will Smith (fl. 1950-1968): campaigner for Romani camps in Norfolk.

Manchester Romani Project

The University of Manchester's Romani Project explores the linguistic features of the dialects of the Romani language, and their distribution in geographical space. It draws on a database which allows users to search and locate on a map different dialectal variants. Example sentences and words with sound files are available, to give impressions of dialectal variation within Romani.

The Romani Project is a partner in an EU-funded training programme in Romany Studies at the Central European University.

  • Appleby Horse Fair: the Appleby Fair is held each June in the town of Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria, probably the best known of the horse fairs attended by Romanies (June 8th-14th, 2006)
  • Gypsy Collections at the University of Liverpool: the Gypsy Lore Society Archive and the Scott Macfie Gypsy Collection of books, manuscripts, prints, photographs, sound recordings and press cuttings (University of Liverpool)
  • Romany collection (Brotherton Collection): an outstanding resource, originally collected by Yorkshire poet Dorothy Una Ratcliffe (1891-1967), and still actively developed (University of Leeds)
  • Robert Dawson Romany Collection: literature, photographs, artefacts and sound recordings (Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading)
  • Gordon Boswell Romany Museum: includes traditional vardos (horse-drawn caravans) and a large collection of photographs (Spalding, Lincolnshire)
  • Romani Studies: the University of Hertfordshire Press publishes works on Romani studies (University of Hertfordshire)

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