OXFORD UNIVERSITY 
Anthropology and Museum
Ethnography Alumni Society
Top, Bedouin, Jordan ; Middle, Kashgar carpet market; bottom, Indian ghat.
(Copyright, 2011 Helen Carr. All rights reserved.)

Where are Gypsies from? Ottoman, Orient, Occident, or Accident? Dr. Helen Carr

At the time when the term Gypsy was first being recorded in the U.K., England was considered insignificant on the international stage, but Islamic expansion (not just a twenty-first century preoccupation) prompted Queen Elizabeth the First to create the Levant Company in 1581 to engage with the Ottomans and encourage trading of metal goods (weapons, naturally), especially tin, as well as silks and spices. Could this arms trade have also included the ‘Egyptians’: craftsmen skilled in armaments and ammunition required for the defence of the realm? Occupations associated until now with ‘Gypsies’? Were Gypsies, Roma et al., the ‘camp followers’ – suppliers of the goods and services, as well as entertainers and entertainment – required by all armies?

 

Skills exchange and co-operation were not an invention of EU bureaucrats. Moors came to London, while English merchants, slave traders et al., went overseas in search of fortune – according to James Mather’s Traders and Travellers of the Islamic World (Yale University Press 2009). Until the Napoleon invasion of Egypt – prompting more exchanges, with voluntary as well as forced migration – the Levant Company was as significant as the now more famous (or infamous) East India Company.

 

Perhaps Gypsies really were from Egypt, originally, and it is not just an accident that they share the same name?

 

If you are interested in obtaining teaching materials that might be useful in presenting this theme to schools, or would like to know more about how you can introduce topics of concern to anthropology to your students, please get in touch via alumni@anthro.ox.ac.uk addressing your request: teaching materials.

(Copyright 2011, 2012, OUAMEAS. All rights reserved.)
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