Gypsy Lore Society

Gypsy Lore Society
  • Version 1.0
  • Publication date 8 February 2024

The Gypsy Lore Society (GLS) was founded in Edinburgh, United Kingdom, in 1888 with the aim of promoting study of the historical origins, language and customs of Roma. After a suspension of activity in 1892 and a re-launch in 1907 from a Liverpool base, it developed to become an international clearing-house for research, knowledge and ideas about Roma and Sinti. Through its journal, the ‘Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society’ (JGLS), its archival and library collections, and the personal networks that it fostered, the GLS both showcased and influenced trends in Romani Studies over the twentieth century. There was hardly anyone in Europe and the Americas interested in Roma who did not have or seek contact with the GLS. The GLS moved its base to the United States in 1989, publishing the journal since 2000 under the title ‘Romani Studies’.

Critiques of the GLS and Gypsylorism

In the 2000s, the GLS and its role began to come under critical scrutiny, as a result of the growth of the Roma rights movement and of increasing awareness of the links between the Nazi persecution and mainstream Gypsyology/tsiganology. The characteristic approach of the founding generations of the GLS, including the Liverpool University Librarian John Sampson (1862–1931) and Dora Esther Yates (1879–1974), de-facto secretary of the Society and editor of the JGLS from the 1920s until shortly before her death, followed the model of the English writer George Borrow (1803–1881). It involved establishing relations of intimacy with Romani families and at the same time treating them as objects of linguistic and genealogical study in scholarly publications and exchanges. Proponents of critical Romani studies have described this ‘Gypsylorism’ (sometimes also ‘lorism’) as an orientalist or colonialist practice. Similarly problematic are the explicitly racist and eugenic elements of the thinking of the GLS members themselves, whose romantic celebration of Gypsy life was typically founded on a distinction between ‘pure-blooded’ (authentic) Romanies and others. At the same time the Society failed to adopt a position of activism or advocacy in the face of antigypsy measures in Britain, and any criticism of such policies in the JGLS was late and half-hearted up to the 1970s.

By the 1970s, the members and correspondents of the GLS included Romani intellectuals and Romani and non-Romani activists in Britain, America and Europe. However, the naïve eclecticism of the GLS meant that even at that point, scholars who had been involved in the Nazi persecution or closely associated with it continued to see the Society as a point of contact. Sophie Ehrhardt (1902–1990), one of the assistants of Robert Ritter (1901–1951), wrote to Dora Yates in 1971 seeking information about links between German and Balkan ‘Gypsies’. Material collected in Lackenbach detention camp (Austria) by Johann Knobloch (1919–2010) was published without critical comment in 1953, and Hermann Arnold (1912–2005), associate of the eugenist Otmar von Verschuer (1896–1969), published articles, reviews and notes in the JGLS in the 1960s and 1970s that drew on Ritter’s work and played down the persecution.

The GLS and the Romani genocide

The response of the GLS and its members to the genocide as it happened, between 1933 and the postwar years, was diffuse and contradictory. Correspondence and clippings in the GLS archives document awareness of Nazi antigypsy measures from as early as 1936. Yates’ correspondence discloses knowledge of Ritter’s pre-war activities, and from 1941 onwards her letters show a growing certainty about the persecution of Roma and a conviction that the aim of German policy was to ‘exterminate’ them ‘as well as Jews’. As JGLS editor, however, she was very cautious, apparently reluctant to upset readers. During the war, the only mention of the persecution in the JGLS was a 1943 report on the German massacre of Serbian Roma, which she added as an epilogue to an article on early modern persecutions. From the autumn of 1945 she began actively to seek information about the fate of the Roma, provoked partly by reports coming in from continental GLS members. The first JGLS article that referred directly to the persecution in its title was written by the French diplomat Frédéric Max (1913–1995), based on what he had learned from Romani fellow-prisoners in Buchenwald. Hesitant to print anything about the genocide that might not be ‘wholly tolerable to our members’,1Newberry Library, Chicago, Alfred Hamill Papers, Dora Yates Letters, Dora Yates to Alfred Hamill, 1 September 1945. Yates published it in French in 1946. The same issue carried an editorial appeal for information about the wartime fates of Roma.

The second JGLS issue of 1946 brought a reflection on the genocide by the young Kalderash writer Matéo Maximoff (1917–1999) and the second instalment of a contribution by Vanya Kochanowski (1920–2007) on Latvian Roma. While Kochanowski’s first instalment was entirely ethnographic, the second carried the byline ‘by one of the survivors’ and gave an eyewitness account of the genocide. Over the next two decades, the JGLS was one of very few publicly available sources of information about the persecution of Sinti and Roma. It regularly carried articles and reviews that either reported on the persecution experience or incorporated the fact of the persecution into their accounts of Romani life. In the 1960s, the historian and political scientist Hans Buchheim (1922–2016), based in the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich (Germany), referred to the authority of the JGLS publications when providing expert advice in the context of legal disputes about the Nazi genocide. He also referred to Dora Yates’ own 1949 article in the Jewish magazine ‘Commentary’, which drew heavily on her GLS correspondence. In spite of its ambivalent posture, then, the GLS played an important role in the early global dissemination of knowledge about the Romani genocide.


  • 1
    Newberry Library, Chicago, Alfred Hamill Papers, Dora Yates Letters, Dora Yates to Alfred Hamill, 1 September 1945.


Eve Rosenhaft: Gypsy Lore Society, in: Enzyklopädie des NS-Völkermordes an den Sinti und Roma in Europa. Hg. von Karola Fings, Forschungsstelle Antiziganismus an der Universität Heidelberg, Heidelberg 8. Februar 2024. -

April 1946Vanya Kochanowski berichtet in einem im Vereinigten Königreich erscheinenden Artikel ausführlich über den Völkermord an den Rom:nja in Lettland.
Oktober 1946Matéo Maximoff fordert in einem im Vereinigten Königreich erscheinenden Artikel die Einsetzung eines Tribunals der Vereinten Nationen zur Bestrafung der Mörder von 500 000 Sinti:ze und Rom:nja.