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“No promised land”: history, historiography and the origins of the Gypsies

“No promised land”: history, historiography and the origins of the Gypsies

Marsh, Adrian Richard Nathaneal (2008) “No promised land”: history, historiography and the origins of the Gypsies. PhD thesis, University of Greenwich.

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This book examines the questions of how Gypsy ethnicity, identity and history are interlinked in the context of examining various contested narratives of origins and migration. The text is itself a series of narratives and counter-narratives that engage in a self-critical, deconstructive analysis of the underlying assumptions hitherto presented in many, if not most of the previous scholarship regarding the origins and identity of the Gypsies, with particular focus on the contextual and radically contingent nature of all such texts. As such, the primary examination is an historiographical and theoretical consideration of the questions surrounding Gypsy ethnicity and identity, as they are embedded in competing versions of historical discourses claiming authenticity and authority.

The dissertation also considers to what extent the production of historical knowledge - contested and contingent as it must be - is affected by those who produce it from within and without the Gypsy community or communities themselves. The construction of historical narratives of journey, undertaken by Gypsies, Roma, Travellers and Sinti themselves, is a relatively recent phenomenon in academia and this dissertation reviews this development in a survey of literatures as they particularly relate to debates on origin, ethnicity and identities. Most especially, this survey examines the production of literatures in Turkish scholarship, as related to the underlying conception of the book arguing for a re-examination of Romani historiography from east to west, rather than the 'traditional' Orientalist and Europecentric perspectives deployed by much of the previous scholarship. Aside from few monographs, the history of the Gypsies in the Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic has received scant attention to date.

Moreover, the dissertation focuses upon the Turkish lands to argue that the historical experiences of Gypsies in this region are of critical importance in understanding the development of both European Romani histories and in acknowledging the flawed basis for the universalist conceptions of European Roma identity and political mobilisation, as they are now articulated. In this context, the importance of Islam in the origins and history of the Gypsies is stressed in the text.

This theoretical framework underlies the interweaving narratives that make up the latter sections of the text, a reconsideration of the sources for early Gypsy history that posits an alternative narrative. Whilst openly acknowledging its contextual and contingent nature, I present this as a plausible solution to some of the problems of origins, especially for the Dom Gypsies of the Arab, Persian and Turkish lands and the Lorn of Turkey, Iran and central Asia. The recapitulation of the linguistic arguments regarding Romani origins I undertake in this book from a historiographical perspective, challenging the preponderant use of historical 'evidence' as merely a background to certain linguistic assertions, in an effort to 'ground' these in historical contexts that support such argumentation, before excising that which appears insupportable.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:
Uncontrolled Keywords: Gypsies, ethnicity, identity, history, communities, contested narratives, Turkey, Romany history, Islam
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PK Indo-Iranian
Pre-2014 Departments: School of Humanities & Social Sciences
School of Humanities & Social Sciences > Department of Social, Political & Cultural Studies
Last Modified: 16 Jan 2019 12:07

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