One of the books I have been working on for the past year came out recently and the publisher sent me some copies.
I started work on this book about 20 years ago when I began my PhD. As part of the process I learnt to read Ottoman, speak Turkish and got a rudimentary grasp of Persian and Arabic. I lived in Turkey for a while so I could work in various archives and search out odd manuscripts. And then I got distracted by writing other books and articles and this project got sidelined. But eventually after two little ‘writing breaks‘ and last summer spent in a local cafe, it is finished.
From the title it might look as if the book is about the siege of a castle – it isn’t. I know historians are meant to tell you what really happened, but I don’t think that is possible, or desirable. I’m not really interested in what happened anyway, I’m interested in the stories people have told about the siege and in speculating about the socio-political or ontological role these stories play.
So this is a book about textualities, about reading and re-writing. It is about how different Ottoman and modern Turkish readers re-wrote the tale to suit different purposes: diplomatic, nationalistic, political.
I also do my best to undermine the rather disingenuous claim by historians that they can somehow access and accurately narrate the past. I think the stories we tell about the past are really stories about the present and as such I use the story of the sieges of Nagykanisa Castle to challenge the idea of a clash of civilisations between Christendom and the dar al-Islam and instead tell a story of co-operation, shared interests and co-existence as quite frankly right now we could do with stories like this.