Interview with Janet Van Vleck, Fall 2022
Community member Janet Van Vleck recently donated a large number of books obtained during her and her husband’s stay in Egypt from 1969-1971. She originally contacted us in 2019, and the book donations were split between February 2020 and September 2022. The first donation consists of 456 volumes of English language books, 22 volumes of French language books, 1 volume in German and 4 journal titles (37 total issues). The second donation includes 228 volumes of Arabic books, 3 Arabic journals (56 issues), 1 Arabic handwritten Saad Zaghlul memoir manuscript and papers, 2 French volumes, 7 English volumes, 2 maps and 3 atlases. Our UW librarians as well as our Middle East Studies professors determined that these books contained interesting material, including some on 19th and 20th century Egyptian history, and some go back to the late Ottoman period.
Could you talk about the collection of books you donated to UW Madison?
My husband, Michael Richard Van Vleck, was a PhD candidate at UW Madison, where he was doing research for his dissertation on educational policy in Egypt during the time of British Occupation, from 1882-1922. So in order to look at original records one had to move to Egypt and learn Arabic. So we moved to Cairo, Egypt for two years, from 1969 to 1971. Our first year we used savings to cover our costs. During our second year Mike received a grant from ARCE which specializes in archeology while Mike’s focus was modern European history. He received an ARCE grant since so few Americans were willing to come to Egypt while Egyptian military sites were still under fire from Israeli bomber planes. The bombing ended soon after bombs came too close in 1970 to the International School in El Ma’adi (Egyptian troops hid near it). The first year he studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo. I also took a graduate course there, and earned a Masters in Public Administration, so it worked well for both of us. The second year he did research on his dissertation. He studied at the central library in Cairo, in their master collection. He also went to the local bookstores and searched for books that were related to his dissertation. Many of them he had rebound since they were old and falling apart. After reading them he shipped them back to the US.
His dissertation is entitled, “British Educational Policy in Egypt Relative to British Imperialism in Egypt 1882-1922”. Could you summarize the dissertation?
He’s basically saying that the British educational policy was training Egyptians to be bureaucrats but not leaders. My husband came out of a union background.
What was it like living in Egypt back then?
Well as you remember there was the Six-Day War with Israel. There were a lot of sandbags out front of the buildings and a lot of military around. During our two-year period there we were under restrictions and we could only go to certain places. These restrictions were related to residency. The only other Americans there besides tourists were AUC (American University in Cairo) students, if you worked for AMACO (the oil company), or if you worked for the US Naval Medical Research Facility. We had no American embassy at that point, we had an American interest section at the Spanish embassy which was housed in the old American Embassy. At the end of the first year Nasser died, and when Anwar Sadat took over, things loosened up. He allowed dollar stores for appliances, so people could bring US dollars into the economy since the British pound was worth nothing.
Mike could read Arabic and could read the newspapers to find out what was really going on. We didn’t have a phone, and we really felt out of step with the world. We had neighbors who worked for AMOCO and the wife was a photographer, she stayed a lifetime friend.
My Arabic is awful because all my classmates wanted to practice their English with me! My classmates became our friends and we would have them over for parties.
We often went to the souk/market and visited the artisans, we would go to the back alleys where the artisans actually made the crafts, and some of them knew us by name.
Well, thank you so much for your book donation, we appreciate it!
Van Vleck’s book donation is currently being catalogued and will be available soon.
For updates, please email us.