Gypsies have lived in England since the early sixteenth century, yet considerable confusion and disagreement remain over the precise identity of the group. The question 'Who are the Gypsies?' is still asked and the debates about the positioning and permanence of the boundary between Gypsy and non-Gypsy are contested as fiercely today as at any time before.
This study locates these debates in their historical perspective, tracing the origins and reproduction of the various ways of defining and representing the Gypsy from the early sixteenth century to the present day. Starting with a consideration of the early modern description of Gypsies as Egyptians, land pirates and vagabonds, the volume goes on to examine the racial classification of the nineteenth century and the emergence of the ethnic Gypsy in the twentieth century. The book closes with an exploration of the long-lasting image of the group as vagrant and parasitic nuisances which spans the whole period from 1500 to 2000.