European Gypsy Publications

A Pilot Project to Acquire Gray Literature for Library Collections

by Sam Dunlap, University of California, San Diego

WESS Newsletter

Spring 2000, Vol. 23, no. 2

Association of College & Research Libraries
© American Library Association






Verdi's opera Il trovatore, from the very first scene, reads like a medieval catalogue of Gypsy stereotypes, from the evil eye and fortune telling, to infant abduction and the notion of Gypsies assuming the form of birds and animals. The work ends with an operatic triple-whammy: a final curse avenging the death, years before, of the Gypsy woman Azucena's mother at the pyre, the death of a brother (raised as Azucena's son), and the revelation of the case of mistaken identity. Much has been written on Gypsy stereotypes and how these result in longterm harmful attitudes by non-Gypsies and ultimately in oppression in many different arenas, including the social and political.

Almost one hundred years ago, Thomas Mann's novella Tonio Kröger featured a character of mixed German-Italian heritage. His swarthy looks are played off the blonde, blue-eyed Hans Hansen and Ingeborg Holm. In moments where Tonio feels the need to justify his and his family's societal position, he thinks repeatedly: "we're not gypies in a green caravan, but respectable people." The leitmotif of the "Zigeuner im grünen Wagen" at once unifies the piece and sets Tonio apart from others in German society.

The current situation of the estimated eight to fifteen million Gypsies in Europe is not a pleasant one. Increased post-Communist era oppression of Gypsies in Eastern Europe has led to the exodus of thousands of Gypsies, and a huge influx of asylum seekers to Western Europe, most notably to Britain. Recent articles in The New York Times and on the BBC describe the phenomenon of Gypsy women and children begging in the streets of London. New, more restrictive, immigration legislation has already been passed in Germany and Austria, and may soon be enacted in Switzerland, Italy, and the Netherlands. The plight of Gypsies is most dire in Slovakia, where two towns are known to prohibit Gypsies from inhabiting their territory, and the town of Usti nad Laben actually erected a wall separating Romani apartments from their non-Gypsy neighbors. The general feeling is that Gypsies fared better before the advent of democracy.

The Gypsies constitute a "dispersed minority," one of three types of minorities that Panikos Panayi outlines in the introduction of his new work, An Ethnic History of Europe Since 1945: Nations, States and Minorities. Due in large part to their poor education and literacy, they tend to be politically "primitive" (to use Panayi's word) in terms of organization. Still, Gypsy organizations do exist, and one of the challenges I encountered was how to identify them, contact them, and attempt to acquire their publications for the UCSD library.

The project was triggered by an article on the opening of the Archive and Documentation Center on the History and Culture of the Roma in Cologne, published early 1999 in The Week in Germany. Online searches in German-language search engines and Academic Universe provided information on regional Gypsy organizations throughout Germany, and I wrote them to express our interest in receiving information on any available publications they might have. The lists (both of publications available from the Heidelberg Dokumentations- und Kulturzentrum Deutscher Sinti und Roma) contained twenty books and two videos on a variety of historical and cultural issues, including the Nazi genocide, literature and music, and documentation on Sinti and Roma cultural centers and memorials. The material was available for purchase directly from the Heidelberg Center or through the book trade; we ordered them from Harrassowitz.

An OCLC search determined that none of the titles were held within the University of California system. While many of the monographic titles were found to be owned by public and private institutions in other parts of the country, some of the titles were held only by a few large private universities; no institution owned the complete list. "Zigeunerbilder" in der deutschsprachigen Literatur [The Image of the Gypsy in German-language Literature], for example, was held by only two other research institutions (New York Public Library and the University of Wisconsin, Madison). The two video titles did not appear in any U.S. collection.

The acquisition of the Heidelberg Center's publications is the first step in a continuing effort to acquire publications of specialized minority organizations and think tanks in Germany. These types of materials--gray literature--take special effort to identify because they do not appear on vendor approval slips. They are valuable primary resources and are of particular relevance to scholars and researchers at UCSD. Last year the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, the first such program to be established at a major West Coast research university, launched a new interdisciplinary undergraduate track with Europe as a key element.

Such a collection of Gypsy literature, apart from its relevance to our academic program and value as a primary resource, is important for another reason. With the recent upsurge of European nationalism and open hostility and outright attacks against immigrants--Jews, Gypsies, and other minorities--it is important that the voices of these groups are heard.

Gypsy organizations have a healthy web presence. One website of note is the RomNews Network http://www.romnews.com/ based in Hamburg, Germany. This site features current news from around the world (in English translation), and contains topics such as linguistics, movies, and statistics, information on upcoming conferences, and links to other organizations.

Casting the net beyond strictly German-based organizations, the European Roma Rights Center http://www.errc.org/, based in Budapest, is "an international public interest law organization which monitors the situation of Roma in Europe and provides legal defence to victims of human rights violations." The website provides full text publications and links to other regional, governmental, and human rights sites, as well as "Roma, Gypsies, and Travellers on the Internet."

The WESS Social Sciences & History Discussion Group's website also contains many more links of interest in this area at http://gort.ucsd.edu/sdunlap/ssh-rom.html.

An update to this initial project report will appear in a future issue of the WESS Newsletter and will include an overview of relevant Gypsy-related print resources, libraries, and archives.

Bibliography:

Bollag, Burton. "Romani Children Go to School." In American Educator 23:4 (Winter 1999-2000), 30-37.
Chaliand, Gerard and Jean-Pierre Rageau. The Penguin Atlas of Diasporas. Trans. A.M. Berrett. New York: Viking, 1995.
Erlanger, Steven. "The Gypsies of Slovakia: Despised and Despairing." In The New York Times, 13 April 2000, A10.
Kenrick, Donald. Historical Dictionary of the Gypsies (Romanies). Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 1998.
Lyall, Sarah. "Britain Raises Barriers High Against the Asylum Seekers." In The New York Times, 13 April 1000, A1, A10.
Panayi, Panikos. An Ethnic History of Europe Since 1945: Nations, States and Minorities. Harlow, England: Longman, 2000.
Tong, Diane. Gypsies: A Multidisciplinary Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1995.

Sam Dunlap
European Studies Librarian
University of California, San Diego
sdunlap@ucsd.edu


Return to WESS Newsletter
WESSWEB | WESS Newsletter Editor