Dr Sacha Davis

Dr Sacha Davis


School of Humanities and Social Science (History)

Discovering the roots of persecution of the Roma

Dr Sacha Davis’ research seeks to understand why the Roma of Central and Eastern Europe have been discriminated against for hundreds of years, a process that’s continuing today.

Dr Sacha Davis sitting on couch reading book

The Roma came to Europe in the late 14th Century via the Middle East from India. They immediately stood out with their mobile lifestyle and colourful clothing that seemed ‘exotic’ to other Europeans. They were highly skilled artisans who would travel around servicing villages, but were unwelcome competitors in the towns of Central Europe that already had an established system of guilds under the Holy Roman Empire.

It was here that the roots of stereotypes and negative attitudes towards the Roma developed and are still evident today in discriminatory policies. Dr Sacha Davis is researching why and how these beliefs developed.

“The people of this time were accustomed to living in small, quite closed communities where outsiders came and went, and often a sense of danger accompanied these outsiders. Although Roma  (sometimes referred to as ‘Gypsies’, although that term is increasingly considered offensive) brought with them a lot of valued goods and skills, they were sometimes accused of petty crimes. Many practiced fortune telling and sold folk medicines, which could lead to accusations of witchcraft,” Sacha said. “Negative stereotypes of Roma as lazy or dishonest also became excuses to pay them poorly for their valuable work, suppressing wages.

Sacha says that from the 18th Century the persecution of the Roma began to intensify, and much of the negative attention came from the state.

“The big change that happened around then is the emergence of the modern state. This is when the state began to want to know where people lived so they knew who they could tax and who was available for military service; however the itinerant Roma did not fit in with this strategy.”

“One such state was the Habsburg Empire, which until the First World War encompassed large swathes of Central and Eastern Europe, including Hungary where many Roma lived.  Under Empress Maria Theresa, the state began to remove Roma children from their parents on the pretext that they were not fit to care for them. The goal was to assimilate the Roma, to make them disappear as a people. It is reminiscent of Australia’s Stolen Generations and severely impacted the individuals involved. It was part of a model for ‘reform’ of the Roma that was imitated in other countries. Furthermore, the rhetoric of Roma as bad parents that was used to justify the removals continues to be influential today.”

Sacha’s journal article Competitive Civilizing Missions: Hungarian Germans, Modernization, and Ethnographic Descriptions of the Zigeuner before World War I examines writings by prominent Hungarian-German scholars who illustrate the way that Hungarian and German elites cast Roma as primitive in an effort to legitimise their different visions of ‘reform’ programs for the Roma.

Another journal article examines descriptions of Romani costume in travel narratives written by predominantly British writers visiting Hungary, believed to be the site of especially ‘pure’ Romani culture, during the long nineteenth century. These descriptions provided key sources of information on the peoples of East Europe for the British public, and reinforced and disseminated East European stereotypes about the Roma to English-speaking audiences.

Sacha says the Roma are the targets of modern-day discrimination right across Europe, often impacting on Romani children especially.

“Romani children are still disproportionately more likely to be removed from their parents. The incidence of Romani children being put into lower education classes because of their heritage is also common. Many Romani children are excluded from school entirely. Adults also experience many forms of discrimination. For example, in Britain and Ireland we see local councils being uncomfortable with the movement of Roma through their areas and the closure of campsites.”

“It’s very important to uncover where and how these problematic stereotypes and discriminatory practices originated and why so many powers tried to legitimise their control of the Roma over hundreds of years because the effect is still very much felt today.”

German Speakers in Newcastle

In a project that is closer to home, Sacha is reaching out to German speakers living in Newcastle in an effort to understand what it means to be a German in Newcastle.

“Historically German speakers have come to Newcastle in relatively large numbers with Newcastle having the highest level of German migration in Australia outside the capital cities,” Sacha said.

“I’m interested in what it means to grow up in Newcastle with a German-speaking heritage, culture and language. I’m particularly interested in people’s sense of connection to their German heritage, and to the German language. Many of the German speakers who came to Newcastle came from Eastern Europe so that is how this ties in with my other research.”

Sacha, along with his UON colleague Dr. Jaime Hunt, have had some interesting discussions with descendants of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, Germans displaced by the advance of the Red Army in Eastern Europe at the end of the war, and refugees from Communist East Germany.

“We found that their German culture was very important to them and that there were a diverse range of ideas about what it means to be a German living in Newcastle,” he said.

The duo are keen to talk to more Novocastrians with a German-speaking heritage to broaden their study.

“I recently gave a talk on our research at the Lake Macquarie Library for History Week and it was very interesting to talk to the people who came up to me afterwards. I’d love for more people with German-speaking heritage to get in contact with me.”

Discovering the roots of persecution of the Roma

Dr Sacha Davis’ research seeks to understand why the Roma of Central and Eastern Europe have been discriminated against for hundreds of years, a process that’s continuing today.The Roma came to Europe in the late 14th Century via the Middle…

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Career Summary


Sacha Davis has lectured at the University of Newcastle since 2008. He received his doctorate from the University of New South Wales following study in Sydney and Cluj-Napoca. He has previously taught at the University of Sydney, Macquarie University and Australian Catholic University, and been a visiting researcher at the University of Turku.

Research Expertise
My primary research interest is in German nationalism in Central/Eastern Europe (the former Habsburg lands) from in the late nineteenth century to the Second World War, with a focus on the interwar period. I have particular interests in German nationalism, transnationalism and diaspora. Other, related topics include Transylvanianism; landscape and nationalism; nationalism and the family; wine, food and nationalism; travel writing in Eastern Europe; and minority fascism. I am currently researching German-Romani interactions in the Habsburg and former Habsburg lands.

Recent publications include a co-edited special issue of German Studies Review on the theme "Germanness beyond Germany: Collective Identity in German Diaspora Communities" (Vol 39 No 1, 2016, co-edited with Alexander Maxwell (Victoria University of Wellington).


  • PhD (History), University of New South Wales
  • Bachelor of Arts (Honours)(History), University of New South Wales
  • Post Graduate Specialisation - History, Universitatea Babes-Bolyai - Cluj Napoca - Romania


  • German
  • Germany
  • Habsburg
  • Hungary
  • Roma
  • Romania
  • Saxon
  • Transylvania
  • Transylvanianism
  • Zigeuner
  • diaspora
  • eugenics
  • fascism
  • landscape
  • migration
  • minority
  • nationalism
  • transnationalism
  • travel writing
  • travelogue
  • wine


  • German (Fluent)
  • Finnish (Fluent)

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
210307 European History (excl. British, Classical Greek and Roman) 100

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
Lecturer University of Newcastle
School of Humanities and Social Science


Dates Title Organisation / Department
30/6/2012 -  Member The Society for Romanian Studies
1/9/1998 -  Member Arbeitskreis für Siebenbürgische Landeskunde e. V.
Member - Antipodean East European Study Group Antipodean East European Study Group


For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.

Chapter (1 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2011 Davis SE, 'East-West discourses in Transylvania: Transitional Erdély, German-Western Siebenbürgen or Latin-Western Ardeal?', The East-West Discourse: Symbolic Geography and its Consequences, Peter Lang, Oxford 127-154 (2011) [B1]

Journal article (10 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2019 Hunt J, Davis S, 'Social and historical factors contributing to language shift among German heritage-language migrants in Australia: An overview', Linguistik Online, 100 159-180 (2019) [C1]
DOI 10.13092/lo.100.6025
Co-authors Jaime Hunt
2019 Davis SE, ''A most picturesque mass of rags': Romani costume and undress in nineteenth-century travel descriptions of Hungary', PATTERNS OF PREJUDICE, 53 464-486 (2019)
DOI 10.1080/0031322X.2019.1656884
2018 Davis SE, 'Hospitality networks, British travel writers, and the dissemination of competing Transylvanian claims to civilization, 1830s 1930s', Nationalities Papers, 46 612-634 (2018) [C1]
DOI 10.1080/00905992.2018.1448375
Citations Web of Science - 1
2017 Davis SE, 'Competitive Civilizing Missions: Hungarian Germans, Modernization, and Ethnographic Descriptions of the Zigeuner before World War I', Central European History, 50 6-33 (2017) [C1]
DOI 10.1017/S0008938917000012
Citations Scopus - 2Web of Science - 3
2016 Davis SE, 'Constructing the Volksgemeinschaft: Saxon Particularism and the Myth of the German East, 1919 1933', German Studies Review, 39 41-64 (2016) [C1]
DOI 10.1353/gsr.2016.0028
Citations Scopus - 1
2016 Maxwell A, Davis SE, 'Germanness beyond Germany: Collective Identity in German Diaspora Communities', German Studies Review, 39 1-15 (2016) [C1]
DOI 10.1353/gsr.2016.0016
Citations Scopus - 3Web of Science - 4
2014 Davis S, 'Wine and Modernity in the Transylvanian Saxon Imagination (1860 1930)', Central Europe, 12 136-158 (2014) [C1]
DOI 10.1179/1479096314Z.00000000028
2013 Davis SE, 'Hungarians in America: Contrasting Studies. Review of Várdy, Steven Béla; Várdy, Agnes Huszár, Hungarian Americans in the Current of History and Vida, Istva´n Korne´l, Hungarian Émigrés in the American Civil War: A History and Biographical Dictionary.', H-Net Reviews, online (2013) [C3]
2012 Davis SE, 'Reflecting on the diaspora: The Transylvanian Saxon self-image and the Saxons abroad', Zeitschrift für Siebenbürgische Landeskunde, 35 150-170 (2012) [C1]
2009 Davis SE, 'Maintaining a "German" home in Southeast Europe: Transylvanian Saxon nationalism and the metropolitan model of the family, 1918-1933', HISTORY OF THE FAMILY, 14 386-401 (2009) [C1]
DOI 10.1016/j.hisfam.2009.08.003
Citations Scopus - 5Web of Science - 5
Show 7 more journal articles

Review (5 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2017 Davis SE, 'Review of Turda, Marius, Eugenics and Nation in Early 20th Century Hungary. (2017)
2017 Davis SE, 'Review of Georgescu, Tudor, The Eugenic Fortress: The Transylvanian Saxon Experiment in Interwar Romania. (2017)
2015 Davis SE, 'Review of Manz, Stefan, Constructing a German Diaspora: The Greater German Empire : 1871 1914. (2015) [C3]
2004 Davis SE, 'Review of Applegate, Celia; Potter, Pamela, eds., Music and German National Identity. H-German, H-Net Reviews. January, 2004. (2004)
2002 Davis SE, 'Review of Dieckhoff, Alain and Gutiérrez, Natividad (eds.). Modern Roots: studies of national identity. (Ashgate Publishing, 2001.)', The Global Review of Ethnopolitics (2002)
DOI 10.1080/14718800208405108
Show 2 more reviews

Conference (2 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2010 Davis SE, '"Our faithfully kept, age-old inheritance": Transylvanian Saxon folk customs, particularism and German nationalism between the Wars.', Europe s Expansions and Contractions: Proceedings of the XVIIth biennial conference of the Australasian Association of European Historians (Adelaide, July 2009), Adelaide (2010) [E3]
2004 Davis SE, 'Transylvanian Saxon identity and the relationship with the Romanian nation-state, 1919-1933.', Europe s pasts and presents: proceedings of the Fourteenth Biennial Conference of the Australasian Association for European History, Brisbane (2004)

Other (1 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2018 Hunt J, Davis S, 'Deutsches Erbe / German Heritage', (2018) [O1]
Co-authors Jaime Hunt

Grants and Funding


Number of grants 2
Total funding $8,518

Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.

20191 grants / $5,000

Faculty of Education and Arts New Start Grant$5,000

Framing Germanness: Transylvanian Saxon particularism, and the collapse of German polycentrism 1919-1933

Funding body: Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle

Funding body Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle
Scheme New Start Grants
Role Lead
Funding Start 2019
Funding Finish 2019
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE

20171 grants / $3,518

German as a heritage language in Newcastle and the Hunter$3,518

Funding body: Australian Linguistic Society

Funding body Australian Linguistic Society
Project Team Doctor Jaime Hunt, Doctor Sacha Davis
Scheme Research Grant
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2017
Funding Finish 2017
GNo G1601158
Type Of Funding C3112 - Aust Not for profit
Category 3112

Research Supervision

Number of supervisions


Current Supervision

Commenced Level of Study Research Title Program Supervisor Type
2019 PhD Bulgaria and Europe: An Examination of the East-West Dichotomy PhD (History), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Principal Supervisor

Dr Sacha Davis


School of Humanities and Social Science
Faculty of Education and Arts

Focus area


Contact Details

Email sacha.davis@newcastle.edu.au
Phone (02) 4921 5217
Links Personal webpage
Personal webpage


Room MCLG17a
Building McMullin Building
Location Callaghan
University Drive
Callaghan, NSW 2308