Teaching Gypsy, Roma and Traveller history

On this post you will find the resources from the HA conference sesssion in Bristol, May 2022. Richard Kerridge and Helen Snelson have worked with the historian Professor Becky Taylor to produce a range of teaching resources for teaching the history of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. There are made freely available here and they are adaptable.

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people are the largest minority ethnic group in some communities (and therefore in some schools) in the UK. Yet the past of Gyspy, Roma, Traveller people may rarely be part of history lessons. The result is that pupils of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller heritage may not encounter their past in history classrooms and myths and stereotypes may take root in the minds of others. 

The HA is keen to help teachers with this problem. An HA page to support teachers is here.

The workshop resources:

A four lesson sequence that focuses on the history of Gypsies and Travellers from the start of the first industrial revolution period to the eve of the First World War. This was a time of great social and economic change in Britain. By completing this sequence pupils will not only learn about a period of British Gypsy and Traveller history, they will also learn about some of the social and economic changes in Britain in the period. They will consider how much changed in society and how much changed for Gypsy and Traveller people. 

By completing this sequence of lessons pupils will learn:

  • How life changed for Gypsy and Traveller people in Britain in the 150 years up to the First World War
  • An outline history of Gypsies and Travellers in Britain before 1750
  • Some of the social and economic changes that occurred in Britain 1750-1914
  • Hinterland knowledge that will help develop their sense of period and place for further study of the years 1750-1914
  • To evaluate the ‘extent’ of change and to learn that changes are not experienced in the same way  
  • To collect notes from a variety of sources and interpretations, to organise them and to frame them as an answer to a historical question. 

Jack Cunningham VC source material

Jack Cunningham was born in 1897 into a Traveller family. He volunteered for the Hull Pals in 1914. In 1916 he won the VC at the very end of the Battle of the Somme. He served to the end of the war and was permanently disabled as a result. He struggled to return to civilian life. 

The various materials here present a complex, human story of World War One. They can be used as a short activity with students. They could be printed off, laminated and given to small groups of students:

  • At the start of learning about World War One to stimulate student engagement and hypothesising. Students could piece together Jack’s story and then ask questions about the First World War and its impact. The teacher could then teach the topic, providing answers to students’ questions and referring back to the story to ask ‘how typical was Jack’s war?’
  • While studying the Battle of the Somme to introduce a human story to the big narrative and to take away from the focus on the first day. The story can provide a bridge from 1916 to the later part of the war on the Western Front. 
  • Following a study of the course of World War One, Jack Cunningham’s story could form part of an enquiry into the impact of the war on the survivors. The problem of veterans settling back into civilian life and the consequences for people around them is still a current issue in the 21st century. 
  • As part of a battlefields tour when visiting the Serre Road, Beaumont-Hamel and Thiepval. Jack Cunningham won his VC for action just north of the village of Serre. 

What does the story of fairs reveal about life in Britain over time? 

Fairs are a useful device to study in a particular time or over time. Their economic function was very important in the pre-industrial age. Over time the fair has lost its importance as a hub of economic activity, but it has kept other functions. Fairs continue to exist in many parts of the country and are part of local culture, from the Nottingham Goose Fair to the Appleby Horse Fair, and from St Giles’ Fair to Hull Fair. Gypsy and Traveller people have long been associated with fairs.

The text, task and images are fully adaptable to your setting. You can transfer them into other formats. You might:

  • Use the information in separate sections as you teach the different time periods, either directly with students or just to inform your teacher talk. 
  • Set the work in one lesson, or as a homework, as a mini thematic context to help students link periods of learning together. 
  • Use the information in your curriculum to ensure that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people do not just appear as victims of oppression in history. 
  • Use the information as context to learning about a local fair and the local economy in your area.

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