Slavic and Eurasian Studies

Dr. Ian Hancock, One of Country’s Foremost Experts on the Roma People, to Retire

Tue, April 24, 2018
Dr. Ian Hancock, One of Country’s Foremost Experts on the Roma People, to Retire
Dr. Ian Hancock with Dalai Lama
Renowned Romani Scholar and CREEES Affiliate Professor in the Department of Linguistics and the Department of English, Dr. Ian Hancock, will retire at the close of the Spring semester.

 

Dr. Ian Hancock has been on the faculty at UT for over 30 years, where he has taught courses on Romani language, culture, and history. During this time, he has authored over 350 publications and established a name for himself as, in the words of CREEES faculty member Dr. Thomas Garza, “a specialist who’s known not just regionally or nationally, but globally.” Throughout his career, Dr. Hancock has focused extensively on human rights work on behalf of Romani peoples across the globe, including efforts to get official recognition on the international stage for the persecution and suffering of Roma during the Holocaust.

In recent years, Dr. Hancock has offered a number of Romani Studies courses to UT students. Perhaps the most popular has been “Gypsy Language and Culture,” which explores the linguistic history of Romani peoples. In his UGS signature course, “The Price of Identity: Romani Reality and Gypsy Myth,” Dr. Hancock introduces the origins, language, and culture of Romani peoples to undergraduates, as well as, in his own words, “the price that you have to pay to retain a distinctive linguistic cultural identity.” A new course, “Holocaust and Race: Jews and Roma,” developed and taught jointly with Dr. Bob Abzug of the Department of History, compares the fates of Jews and Roma and Sinti peoples in the Holocaust. Finally, Dr. Hancock teaches conference courses on Romani language for graduate students.

In addition to establishing the field of Romani Studies at UT, Dr. Hancock also founded the Romani Archives and Documentation Center (RADOC). Housed on the UT campus, the RADOC is the world’s largest and most extensive collection of documents related to Romani Studies. “There’s no other one like it,” said Dr. Garza. “It’s remarkable in the number of volumes it has, both in its breadth and its depth…and how much he knows about every single artifact in there, every single newspaper clipping.” The collection, which fills two offices in Calhoun Hall, includes monographs, dissertations and theses, novels, and other artifacts. “I’ve got everything, everything I can get, even if it’s not really about Gypsies, even if it only has the word in the title,” Dr. Hancock said. “Some of it's historical or linguistic. Some of it, a lot of it actually, has to do with the image of the Gypsy in literature.”

The RADOC has served as a point of departure for students, as well as visiting scholars and three documentary film crews. It also represents a focal point for the community of people interested in Romani Studies at UT. “There’s a sense of being anchored, having a spot” in the archive, explained Mariana Sabino, a PhD student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese who works on Roma in Mexico and Brazil. “We meet in the archive, and if we need something it’s right here.”

In spite of Dr. Hancock’s numerous accomplishments as a UT faculty member, there is a sense among his colleagues and students that he has perhaps been underappreciated by the university during his time here. “I have not received any support from the university,” Dr. Hancock said. “The Center is me. It’s not official, it’s not funded.” Additionally, as Nora Tyeklar—a PhD student in Anthropology who has received several Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships for Romani and Hungarian languages from CREEES and UT's Center for European Studies—pointed out, the University “has not given official recognition to Dr. Hancock’s collection as an archive, nor given it a permanent place on UT’s campus.” (Read more about Nora's work here.)

The academic and international community have overwhelmingly recognized Dr. Hancock’s contributions to Romani Studies and to Romani peoples around the world. He has accepted a prize from the Rafto Foundation for Human Rights on account of his work as an activist and scholar, and was appointed by President Bill Clinton to represent Roma and Sinti on the US Holocaust Memorial Council. In 1978, he acted as a representative to the United Nations to petition for Romani membership, and he has served in the UN’s Economic and Social Council as well as UNICEF. He has been granted audiences with the Dalai Lama and Queen Elizabeth II, has been formally recognized by the Texas House of Representatives, and he holds numerous honorary doctorates, certificates of recognition, and academic chairs. “When I think about the travel and the honors and the kind of life he’s had outside the university,” said Dr. Bob Abzug, who taught “Holocaust and Race” with Dr. Hancock, “it’s Janis Joplin in Port Arthur versus in the world.” Moreover, as pointed out by Dr. Nidhi Trehan, a social scientist who is currently writing a book on Roma and human rights in Europe, Dr. Hancock’s work has raised awareness for the field and led to a new generation of Romani Studies experts. “The example set by Professor Ian Hancock’s pioneering work within Romani studies—that is, to almost independently create a Romani studies program and the Romani Archives at The University of Texas at Austin in 1976—is being replicated across the globe now in universities where its importance is being recognized,” Dr. Trehan said.

According to Dr. Hancock’s colleagues and students, his retirement will represent an enormous loss for the University. “In the narrow sense I would call it a huge loss to our language offerings because Romani is offered in so few universities nationwide, globally actually…But I think there’s an even greater loss in cultural studies,” said Dr. Garza, referring to the undergraduate courses that introduced so many UT students to Romani Studies and will no longer be taught. “As far as I know, there are very few [Romani Studies experts] in the world, and it would be hard to replace him,” said Mariana Sabino. Dr. Trehan agreed that his departure would create a “vacuum” on the UT campus. “The courses and exposure he generated on Romani life-worlds to several generations of Texans will come to an end,” she said. “Whereas previously, international scholars used to visit the Romani archives, now there will be a void.”

There are currently no plans to replace Dr. Hancock with another Romani Studies specialist. Because of this, as Nora Tyeklar pointed out, “any semblance of a Romani Studies program at UT Austin will leave with [Dr. Hancock].” The RADOC will remain on campus for one year, but its fate after that is unknown. Dr. Garza believes that the removal of the RADOC from the UT campus—which he described as a “bibliographic rarity” and one of the “jewels in the crown of UT’s libraries”—would be an enormous loss for the campus community.

Dr. Hancock will continue to work with UT students as Professor Emeritus. CREEES congratulates him on a distinguished career and thanks him for the positive impact he has had on many students of Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies. We look forward to witnessing his ongoing achievements against all odds.

 

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