Research and the Romany Collections

woodshaving flowers

Discover more about the research potential of our Romany Collections in our Cultural Institute Workshop in February

Work continues on the National Archives funded cataloguing project, “Collectors and Activists,” to catalogue what have become known as the Romany Collections.  Made up of collections deposited by four different owners – Dorothy Una Ratcliffe, Sir Angus Fraser, Jenny Smith and Diana Allen – the collections offer different viewpoints.  What is also becoming apparent is how they cover diverse subjects and in turn offer an excitingly broad range of research potential.  This will be explored at a Cultural Institute Workshop on 21 February.

It would be fair to say that Dorothy Una Ratcliffe’s collections primarily capture the more romanticised view of life for Gypsies and Travellers in the UK and Europe from the 18th to mid twentieth century. There are however two sides emerging to her collections; that of a non Gypsy Traveller’s celebration of Gypsy Traveller culture and traditions captured in the historic mainstream e.g. art, language, literature, music and dance.  This is very much reflective of the aims of the Gypsy Lore Society of which Dorothy Una Ratcliffe was a member, benefactor and advocate.

In contrast her collections also capture important documentary evidence of the emerging realities of life for many Gypsies and Travellers during the period 1930-1960s through the press cuttings and papers relating to Evangelism within these communities in the mid twentieth century.  The handmade flowers in the image below are from Ratcliffe’s collections.

Jenny Smith’s Collection on the other hand couldn’t be more different. Working for Shelter (Homelessness charity) and a Labour Councillor in the Bristol area over the last 30 years she has championed the rights of Gypsies and Travellers, both in her area and more widely in the UK as part of her role on the Labour Campaign for Traveller’s Rights which was founded in the 1980s.

Smith’s collection captures a very different perspective and possibly an experience that is specific to the UK in its coverage of New (Age) Travellers and the laws and policies that affected these and other communities of the Gypsies and Travellers in the UK, especially the Criminal Justice Act 1994.  It also highlights the sometimes radical protest movements that surrounded these communities.

Individually these collections provide an example of the diversity of themes.  While collectively they also reflect a multi-faceted view of both the varied and common experiences of some Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities and a chronology of change particularly in the last 100 years.

Cataloguing of these and the other collections continues but what we are starting to glimpse is the multiple stories and themes contained both within and across them.  These offer not just a rich resource to historians but also to others within the University, including people studying languages, linguistics, law, art, social sciences, politics, planning and education, for example, and external researchers. Recent interest in the collection has also demonstrated the potential opportunities to engage and inspire artists and communities for change.

For those interested in finding out more about these collections and their potential there is a Cultural Institute Workshop on the Romany Collections on 21 Feb 2017.

 

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