Irish Travellers

Irish Travellers

The Unsettled Life
Sharon Bohn Gmelch and George Gmelch
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 10/23/2014
ISBN: 978-0-253-01461-0
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Honorable Mention, 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards, Social Sciences2015 AAUP Public and Secondary School Library Selection

Anthropologists George and Sharon Gmelch have been studying the quasi-nomadic people known as Travellers since their fieldwork in the early 1970s, when they lived among Travellers and went on the road in their own horse-drawn wagon. In 2011 they returned to seek out families they had known decades before—shadowed by a film crew and taking with them hundreds of old photographs showing the Travellers' former way of life. Many of these images are included in this book, alongside more recent photos and compelling personal narratives that reveal how Traveller lives have changednow that they have left nomadism behind.

Author Bio

Sharon Bohn Gmelch is Professor of Anthropology at the University of San Francisco and Roger Thayer Stone Professor of Anthropology at Union College. Her books include Nan: The Life of an Irish Travelling Woman; Tinkers and Travellers: Ireland's Nomads; The Tlingit Encounter with Photography; and, with George Gmelch, Tasting the Good Life: Wine Tourism in the Napa Valley (IUP, 2011).

George Gmelch is Professor of Anthropology at the University of San Francisco and Union College. His books include The Irish Tinkers: The Urbanization of an Itinerant People and Behind the Smile: The Working Lives of Caribbean Tourism (IUP, 2012).


“Extensive photos and personal narratives reveal how Traveller lives have changed from the 1970s to present and what it means to be a Traveller today.”

“Bring[s] together photographs taken over a forty-year period with Traveller commentary on the photos and the lives they represent, along with 'snapshots' of the authors' experience. . . . As such, it offer[s] a unique contribution, in its combination of methods and representations, to the study of Travellers, but also to our understanding of Irish society through an especially dynamic period.”
 — Lawrence Taylor, National University of Ireland-Maynooth

“Anthropologists Sharon . . . and George . . . Gmelch offer personal recollections from their initial fieldwork during the early 1970s coupled with observations from their encounters 40 years later in a follow-up trip. Their generally sympathetic insights are also brought to life through a wealth of evocative photographs from both visits. . . . Recommended.”
 — Choice

“The authors are proven fieldworkers and talented writers with long-term expertise in Traveller culture; the images are excellent, crisp and professional, informative and evocative.”
 — Ray Cashman, Ohio State University

“When Sharon and George Gmelch returned to Ireland forty years after conducting fieldwork with Traveller communities, they found that their old friends were 'anxious to tell their stories.' Those stories are relayed here not only in text form but also through page after page of visually stunning photography. . . . [W]e get to hear the affectionate and sometimes difficult story of two anthropologists and their life-long relationship with the Traveller community. Irish Travellers makes an important contribution to our understanding of this population and the dramatic changes that have occurred over the last generation, although it becomes clear that one very 'unsettling' fact remains: while many aspects of life have improved for Travellers, they are still largely marginalized in Irish society.”
 — Adam Kaul, Augustana College

“Every student in our Introduction to Anthropology classes read Irish Travellers: The Unsettled Life in the spring of 2016. Through absolutely compelling ethnographic text and stunning images, the Travellers came to life in our classrooms—populated with learners from different social locations and different majors. What resonated with these diverse students? Evaluations indicate that they recognized the legacy of social stratification and its minions—racism, structural violence, and disenfranchisement—in a group of people for whom they anticipated nothing in common. Irish Travellers: The Unsettled Life served as a bridge across space and time to deepen student understanding of the dynamic relationships between social justice and change—of particular interest on our campus. In Irish Travellers, Sharon and George Gmelch quite remarkably illuminate our common humanity, the process and promise of change, and the importance of anthropology in today’s world.”
 — Iris Carter Ford, Ph.D., St. Mary's College of Maryland / Maryland's Public Honors College

“Irish Travellers: The Unsettled Life provides extraordinary insight into the Irish Travelling community, complete with beautiful photographs from past and present. A crucially important work, it marks changing times for the Irish Travelling community and, indeed Ireland as a whole. A wonderful book for general interest, research, and teaching alike. ”
 — Claire Bracken, Department of English, Union College

“[C]olor photos . . . form a full picture of the group's culture over the decades, and . . . reflect the importance of photographs in Traveller life. . . . An unusual and captivating depiction of a rarely examined people.”
 — Library Journal (Starred Review)

“This book is an excellent introduction to how cultural anthropologists use classic methodologies such as interviews and observations to present a narrative of a community with rich traditions. In this texts the Gmelch's have expanded this type of classic study to include images and reflections from their previous informants to give the reader a long-term perspective on the traveller's life. The images, narratives, and presentation of interviews captivates students in a way that many classic ethnographies cannot.”
 — Liza Gijanto, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, St. Mary's College of Maryland

“Aimed at a broad readership, this book by two well-established scholars offers a compelling account of a return to Ireland 40 years after their doctoral fieldwork among the Irish minority population of Travelling People.”
 — American Anthropologist

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