1. Please describe your academic background and current position.
I am University Assistant at the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Innsbruck in Austria and have been involved in research on topics related to minority literatures and cultures for many years.
2. In your research, you focus on Roma and minority literature, especially from an intercultural and transcultural perspective. Could you briefly present some of your current work on this topic?
When I analyse literature and art in my research and teaching, I always focus on its political dimension, I am interested in questions of production and reception, identity-building, in the process of minoritization and in cultural memory. I also very much appreciate interdisciplinary work. I am a member of the DFG (German Research Foundation) network Aesthetics of Roma: Literature, Comic and Film by Roma in Areas that Speak a Romance Language, where I collaborate with researchers from other disciplines focusing on different aesthetics of Romani literature and art. In 2018, I organized an interdisciplinary lecture series at the University of Innsbruck called Cultural Encounters and Conflicts: Minoritization. Representation and Alliances, and this year I am organizing the lecture series “Meeting of Knowledges” and the Sociopolitical Relevance of Research and Cultural Work.
In order to increase the visibility of Romani authors, it is necessary that their literary works are printed and translated. For this reason, in collaboration with innsbruck university press, I helped republish the German-language edition of József Holdosi’s novel Kányák, an important Hungarian generational novel influenced by magic realism. Moreover, together with Erika Thurner and Elisabeth Hussl, I edited the volume Roma und Travellers. Identitäten im Wandel (“Roma andTravellers: Changing Identities”), which was also published at innsbruck university press in 2015. In the same year, I organized the Writer in Residence program at the University of Innsbruck, where we hosted Jovan Nikolić, a prolific Yugoslavian-born author from the Romani community, who now lives in Germany.
3. Can you present the aims of the project RomArchive (2015–2019)? What kind of materials do you collect there? How is the project connected to the Phonogrammarchiv?
RomArchive’s primary aim is to increase the visibility of arts and cultures of Roma and thereby emphasize their contribution to European cultural history and at the same time counter persistent stereotypes. This international project addresses Roma as Europe’s largest minority as well as their relationship to the majority societies. It has resulted in an openly accessible and curated digital archive, which brings together Romani art of all kinds, as well as scholarly texts and historical documents. The project is characterized by Romani leadership: members of Romani communities have been involved as curators, artists, scholars, and members of the advisory board.
RomArchive consists of ten sections: dance, film, literature, music, theatre and drama, visual arts, flamenco, material on the politics of photography, first-person testimonies related to the persecution of Roma under the Nazi regime, and scholarly material on the civil rights movement. RomArchive was awarded the prestigious Grand Prix of the European Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards 2019.
I curated one of the ten sections of RomArchive, namely Literature, which presents a wide range of oral and written literary works of Roma, Yenish and Travellers in a variety of languages, Romani dialects and genres. I collaborated with an international team of 30 scholars from Europe, Russia and the United States, who are experts on Romani literature in their countries. The archive mainly contains examples from European countries as well as some examples from overseas. The linguist Petra Cech was the responsible curator for the orality subsection. Together with the team of experts, we collected various texts, such as poems, extracts of prose, examples of children’s literature, scholarly articles, and photos, as well as sound recordings of Romani oral literature, interviews with authors, lectures, and readings.
This extensive project was only possible thanks to the cooperation with the Phonogrammarchiv of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, which is a CLARIN Knowledge Centre and hosts the largest collection of field recordings of Romani language, oral tradition and music, including the Heinschink Collection, as well as the Collections Hübschmannová and Davidová. Covering the time span from the mid-1950s to date and consisting of far more than 1000 hours’ worth of materials, these holdings include thousands of (predominantly audio) recordings from various European countries and Turkey. For the Literature section of RomArchive, the Phonogrammarchiv’s responsible curator of collections of Romani culture, together with Petra, selected, edited and annotated 18 sound recordings from Phonogrammarchiv’s field collection that feature Romani oral literature from various countries recorded between 1965 and 2012. In addition to this, the Phonogrammarchiv edited literary readings from its holdings as well as readings and interviews with famous authors mainly recorded by one of our team members in the course of the project.
4. How does the Phonogrammarchiv help with the preservation and annotation of the audio-visual and written materials in this project? What are the main obstacles related to working with audio-visual materials? How does the Phonogrammarchiv overcome them?
The collaboration of the Phonogrammarchiv, as a K-centre, with researchers like us on how to handle materials on the cultural heritage of minority communities is an excellent example of putting the idea of CLARIN’s research infrastructure into practice. At the outset, the RomArchive project wanted to achieve a high standard in the digitization, editing and cataloguing of its materials. To this end, the Literature section teamed up with the Phonogrammarchiv, which fulfilled a whole range of tasks for our section. These tasks included technical support and advice in the editing of the sound recordings of the interviews, the digitization of printed materials and analogue recordings, and the production of digital copies for online presentations. In addition, the metadata capture of all the materials collected by the Literature Section was carried out together with a specialist in information studies, who had gained experience with audiovisual materials through an internship at the Phonogrammarchiv while she was a student. The Phonogrammarchiv also provided a trusted repository for the digital transfer of all texts, sound files and other materials during the review process by board members of RomArchive. Finally, the Phonogrammarchiv successfully conducted rights clearance with authors and speakers (or their heirs) and other rights holders for the online publication of their works and performances in the RomArchive.
As stated above, in the RomArchive project, I collaborated with many international colleagues. However, the editing, capturing and digital archiving of the materials go beyond the know-how of many scholars in literary studies. It was therefore essential for me to have gained the Phonogrammarchiv as a partner in the project, as their expertise and technical support were necessary in all steps of the digitization process. Aside from RomArchive, my colleagues and I have also benefitted from the Phonogrammarchiv’s support and advanced technologies in other research and teaching endeavours, for instance when the archive’s staff performed the digital transfer from obsolete audiovisual formats that were used some decades ago.
5. One of the aims of the Phonogrammarchiv is to help the communities that provide the audio-visual recordings and the accompanying written materials. How do the Roma community, as well as immigrant and minority communities in general, benefit from such help and preservation on the part of the Phonogrammarchiv? What future development would you like to see in relation to this?
The archived field recordings of tales, stories and songs are part of the cultural heritage of the people recorded, and their oral histories or other individual accounts are first-hand sources for (future) historical narratives of these communities. Their preservation and documentation in an institution such as the Phonogrammarchiv is important because it guarantees the steady availability of such sources for the communities themselves.
Aside from providing a permanent archive, the Phonogrammarchiv has been cooperating with Romani and other minority communities for a long time. Since the early 1990s, the Phonogrammarchiv collaborated with the Romani Project, which is led by sociolinguists at the University of Graz who have been working on the codification of several Romani dialects, including highly endangered varieties. Here, the Phonogrammarchiv has provided numerous recordings for analysis and publication. As a significant outcome of this collaboration, five bilingual volumes with Romani tales and other narratives were published between 2000 and 2012. The tales and narratives included in the volumes are largely based on recordings from the Phonogrammarchiv’s collections. Three of these anthologies were published together with CD editions containing the original audio recordings. Since such publications are bilingual, in the sense that they contain the original Romani texts and their German translations, they also address the wider public in addition to the Romani communities. The same is true for the educational website RomBase – Didactically Edited Information on Roma, for which the Phonogrammarchiv contributed sound samples illustrating various topics on Romani history and culture. In 2006–2008, the Phonogrammarchiv cooperated with representatives of a Romani organisation in the Austrian province Burgenland during their field research in the oral history project Mri Historija.
One recent project involving the Romani community in Austria was the exhibition Romane Thana (“Places of Roma”), which was shown at the Wien Museum in 2015 as well as at other Austrian museums. It was organized by the NGO’s Romano Centro (Vienna), Initiative Minderheiten and the Wien Museum. Many members of Romani communities were directly involved and made their own contributions at this extensive exhibition, which was visited by nearly 23,000 people in Vienna. The Phonogrammarchiv contributed a video (documenting the work of a Romani coppersmith) and audio samples of songs, tales and interview excerpts from the Heinschink Collection, so visitors could learn about the variety of Romani dialects. The webpage of Romane Thana also contains some of these items in its virtual exhibition as well as educational material for students. The Phonogrammarchiv has provided relevant audio materials about Romani culture for school teachers, general educational purposes and for radio programmes focusing on minority issues.
In short, such cooperation is crucial both for the Phonogrammarchiv and the communities themselves. Staff members of the Phonogrammarchiv have gained an outstanding knowledge of the Romani language and cultures, and the archive’s multifaceted expertise is, in my experience, very much appreciated by the minority communities. Transcultural cooperation is made possible, for instance in the field of education where there are now more expert lectures on topics about Romani and other minority communities at schools and universities.
6. How do the Phonogrammarchiv’s experts advise scholars on implementing audio-visual technologies in humanities and social science research? Could you give an example from your research on Roma and minority literature that shows how you have benefited from Phonogrammarchiv’s advice?
Generally speaking, the Phonogrammarchiv supports Austrian researchers by providing state-of-the-art equipment and training on the use of audiovisual technologies and methodologies in field recording as well as knowledge on the documentation and processing of the recorded materials. It is also important that the field recordings are archived at the Phonogrammarchiv since they thereby become accessible for future research and users such as myself. The Phonogrammarchiv as a K-Centre serves the CLARIN community with knowledge transfer and individual and group trainings on various aspects of audiovisual recording and long-term preservation.
In my case, the Phonogrammarchiv’s advice and assistance were especially crucial for creating many parts of the RomArchive Literature Section. In addition to chapter 4 on Oral Literature, the Phonogrammarchiv’s experts edited all audio material presented in two other chapters in this Section – in chapter 5, which includes interviews, and in chapter 7, which includes literary readings and recitations by well-known Romani poets and writers. Several members of my team, as well as other colleagues at the RomArchive, have also given very positive feedback on the intensive assistance and support that they have obtained from the Phonogrammarchiv.
7. What’s your vision for the Phonogrammarchiv 10 years from now?
I would like to see that the Phonogrammarchiv continues to maintain the extraordinary high standard in supporting Romani and minority communities, as well as scholars and partner institutions at an international level. I hope that new research communities will benefit from the Phonogrammarchiv’s expertise on audiovisual research and from their thorough knowledge, which aside from minority studies extends to other relevant disciplines such as ethnomusicology, linguistics and social anthropology. I also hope that new generations of minority communities and scholars will have the opportunity to cooperate with the Phonogrammarchiv as I have been able to for many years.
Photo by Monika Raič