education, Episodes, Politics, Religion, Teaching resources

Episode 16: COVID series Part I: Educating the Roma

“I feel that if you’re on the margins, the strange thing is that you have more power. If you are not within a structure, you’ve got nothing to lose, then in a strange kind of way you gain everything.”

– Dr Julia Bolton Holloway

(taken from:

Dr Ann Wand had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr Julia Bolton Holloway to discuss her work on educating the Roma in Florence, Italy. She has not only created an ‘Alphabet school’ for Roma children and adults to learn literacy, but her life’s work is dedicated to changing the world’s perspectives on one of the most marginalized communities in modern-day society. The C&C team is also fortunate to have had two Roma citizens, Daniele and Diamanta, join us at the studio in order to provide their side of the story, and for that, we are extremely grateful.

The show notes:

Dr Holloway’s story:

My doctorate is from Berkeley with a dissertation on pilgrimage in Dante, Langland and Chaucer. I taught for the Franciscans while writing it and raising my three sons, their father having left us penniless. I next taught at Princeton, we were the first generation of women so tenure was not granted, then taught at Boulder where I directed Medieval Studies, publishing many books and articles, but a bitter tenure fight. I persisted as a scholar but actually had to leave academia to be such, facing jealousy from men and a woman, imagining the outcome as becoming a shopping bag lady, homeless, but at least with Plato, Aristotle and the Bible in my shopping bag in their original languages.

I eventually joined my Anglican convent which had been my school in Sussex, but found it had become the opposite of what I remembered, a place of beauty, scholarship and holiness. I fled to Italy, soul-shattered but was editing Julian of Norwich. The edition was published by Florence’s SISMEL. In my despair I found the Roma, even poorer than I, particularly when I came to be Custodian of the English Cemetery and they helped me restore it and build the library’s bookshelves, while I teach them the alphabet. I got that position because I had edited Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry for Penguin, and she is buried here, also here are Abolitionists like Frances Trollope, Theodore Parker, Hiram Powers, and Richard Hildreth. Frederick Douglass came to visit their tombs on 11 May 1877, my Roma restorer creating the plaque recording that. The Roma were freed from slavery with the publication the year after of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Romanian, and she was copying Frances Trollope’s and Richard Hildreth’s earlier anti-slavery novels!

I define myself as ‘libero professionista’, as an independent scholar, and in ecclesiastical standing as a vowed hermit. I publish as books and on the Web the works of women and men colleagues, while at the same time teaching the alphabet to Romanian Roma families denied literacy from their centuries of slavery and then the Holocaust in Transnistria.

More information on Dr Holloway can be found in the following websites:–>

Additional information on the Roma:

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