The Irish Travellers: an illustrated 40-year ethnographic retrospective

September 2, 2021

Sharon B. Gmelch

Dr. Sharon Gmelch, University of San Francisco and Union College, gives an illustrated talk about her return to Ireland to interview Irish Travellers, an indigenous nomadic minority group, and about the changes that have occurred in their culture since her first field work among them in 1971-72. The use of fieldwork photographs taken by George Gmelch proved to be an effective way to get Travellers to reflect on their changed lives. The results of this research were published in 2014 as Irish Travellers: An Unsettled Life. A documentary film was also made about Sharon and George’s return research.


Sharon Bohn Gmelch earned a PhD in cultural anthropology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Her interests include visual anthropology, gender, ethnicity, and tourism. She is the author of ten books, including Nan: The Life of an Irish Travelling Woman (1986/91), which was a finalist for anthropology’s Margaret Mead award, and The Tlingit Encounter with Photography (2008). She also co-produced an ethnographic film on the Tlingit. She has conducted research in Ireland, Barbados, Alaska, and the Napa Valley, and published Tasting the Good Life: Wine Tourism in the Napa Valley (2011, with George Gmelch). Her most recent book is In the Field: Life and Work in Cultural Anthropology (2018, with George Gmelch).