A Great Lakes Colleges Association initiative supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

A Storied People

About the Project

“A Storied People” documents the experiences of Hungarian/Slovak Roma-Gypsy musicians in Cleveland, Ohio. It also includes interviews with other musicians and music professionals from other “Rust Belt” cities who have been connected through Romani heritage and/or professional collaboration to Cleveland’s once extremely active and renowned violin-and-cimbalom band scene.

The oral history archive serves in part to facilitate informed educational use of the George Batyi Collection of Romani Music Media, a collection donated to the Oberlin Conservatory Library by Romani-American violinist George Batyi (a virtuoso from Homestead, PA who has long been active in Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Cleveland).

Courses & Events

Professor McMillen’s project spanned iterative offerings of classes at Oberlin College in partnership with the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s Global Liberal Arts Alliance connected course program. Interviews were conducted by students and indexed in the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer across three offerings, including an Anthropology of Europe course, a focused “Roma, ‘Gypsies’, Travelers” course (offered as a globally connected course with “Bulgarian Government and Politics” taught by Emilia Zankina at the American University of Bulgaria), and a further city study of Cleveland at Oberlin College.

These courses generated new primary source documents through the interviews, and also led to a digitized a collection of musical records for the Oberlin Conservatory, a curation of existing library resources and associated ephemera in an Omeka-hosted digital exhibit, and a variety of guest lectures and concerts hosted at Oberlin College.

Digital Exhibit

Professor McMillen’s full digital exhibit was developed in close collaboration with Oberlin College’s Digital Initiatives Librarian Megan Mitchell and can be found at this link:


Associated Media

Written by

Ian MacMillen directs the Oberlin Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies (OCREECAS). His primary research focuses on the racialized and affective nature of interethnic and transnational connections forged through music — particularly popular and traditional tambura chordophone bands in multiethnic communities of post-conict Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia. He is currently completing a monograph on this topic that is under advance contract with Wesleyan University Press. Additional interests include the role of sound in memorializing and forgetting violence; musical fascination and tourism in SE Europe; popular music black markets along Eastern Europe's border waters; the use of American jazz and rock 'n' roll in Soviet political animated lm; and musical connections between Africa and its Diasporas. His OHLA project leads students in outreach to Cleveland's Roma-Gypsy community and in conducting, recording, transcribing, analyzing, and creating metadata for oral history interviews with this aging population. This work commenced with the Spring 2017 course "Anthropology of Europe" and continues this fall with the class "Roma, 'Gypsies,' Travelers."

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