I have a book coming out. But it’s not my book.

Jirousek_Ottoman Dress and Design in the West_cvr

My late mother, Charlotte Jirousek, professor of textiles and apparel at Cornell University, wrote it. Took her about 15 years, including research.

Her premise is that dress historians in Europe and the USA often write as if a cultural wall separated the Ottoman Empire and Europe, when nothing could be farther from the truth.

Those cultures influenced each other for centuries, and the history of how the balance between them shifted along with political, military, and economic power is one of the most interesting parts of this story.

Plus all the cool tidbits like–guess where buttons came from.

Mom went to Turkey for the first time on a college trip in 1959, and fell in love with that part of the world for life. In the 1960s, she and my father served with Peace Corps Turkey and helped a village get a rug cooperative off the ground. At age 49, after various other adventures, she got her PhD. Tough age to start an academic career, but she did it. Cornell was her second job after graduation. As soon as she got it, she began almost annual trips to do primary research in Turkey on vanishing textile technologies at the end of what was once the Silk Road, aided by her fluency in Turkish, her experience with Anatolian village culture, and her background as a weaver and weaving teacher. She traveled to places that few other researchers had been to. And over time, she became interested in the influence of the Ottoman Empire on European dress and design.

Right after she retired in 2014, she died. Her coffee table was stacked with books and maps to plan another three month research trip.

We were flooded with condolences, and also many notes from her collaborators and peers saying, “but what about the book?!”

The manuscript was complete enough to pitch. Once I had cleared out the estate, and placed her collections, papers, and personal library at Cornell, I picked it up.

I took a “how to pitch a scholarly book” class with Audra J. Wolfe via Thinking Writer,  sent out queries, and it was acquired by Jennika Baines of Indiana University Press.

With her guidance, and using skills I learned as an academic librarian, proofreader, and indexer, I completed a massive developmental edit, and cut the images from over 300 down to 196. When I couldn’t find copyright holders or even sources for some of those images, I found new ones that illustrated the same points. That part took almost a year! Try looking for a specific 15th century sleeve detail in scanned manuscript databases held by national libraries and little monasteries, using google translate to navigate their sites.

I also corresponded with many curators and librarians, often across language barriers (though I did improve my French). Many were lovely, and went extra miles to help me.

To pay thousands of dollars in subvention, permissions and international wiring fees, I held a GoFundMe, and my mom’s network stepped up and covered it all.

There is no way I could have done this project 20 years ago.

So it’s done now. It is  brilliant, topical, beautiful, accessible to a general audience, and out March 1, 2019. This is how the preface begins:

“In 1959 I made my first visit to the Middle East. It was a revelation.”

Charlotte Jirousek in Iğdır 1959
Charlotte Jirousek in Iğdır 1959

Thus the Birch Canoe was builded

I’m on a John McPhee kick, which is starting to tie into my childhood “abandon me in the wilderness” fantasies. I’m reading the library’s copy of The Survival of the Bark Canoe. Someone copied part of Longfellow’s noble savage fantasy, Song of Hiawatha, into the back.

Hiawatha stanzas

I never thought it was a good poem, even as a child growing up in Minneapolis, with this statue a semi-annual school field trip, and real Natives, some AIM activists, talking history at school and elsewhere.

Hiawatha statue

But I can still sympathize slightly with the defacer of library property because it is a hard poem to remove from memory, once in. And it always makes me think of Katherine Hepburn as a reference librarian.