Guns and Self-Defense

Main Image: U.S. Constitution- taken from Wikimedia Commons

In a nod to Andy Warhol, I have experienced my “fifteen minutes of fame” on a couple of occasions. The most recent instance began in the summer of 2014 and lasted until 2017. It was during this period that I wrote and provided public commentary about both the rise of ISIS in the Middle East as well as the scourge of Islamic terrorism. As a historian of the crusades, and religion more broadly, I conducted dozens of television interviews with local news stations, even being contacted by CNN on occasion, and wrote quite a bit about these topics on my blog. One of my blog essays, considering how deaths by terrorism are calculated and the seemingly politicized manipulation of such figures, was shared widely in conservative media outlets, even resulting in a news story about it in the Wall Street Journal. This brought a lot of attention, and not all of it positive. Strangers more than happily voiced their criticisms, by email and even by phone on one occasion. This is to be expected and I did not mind so long as such criticisms were expressed with some small degree of civility or reason. Indeed, I engaged in lengthy dialogues by email or over social media with some. If a professor is going to add their voice to public discussions they should expect criticism, dialogue, and debate from the public. It should be understood that some degree of that attention will be impolite, rude, or obnoxious.


What was unsettling, however, Continue reading

Racial Disparity in the Academy: An Observation

*Main image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Throughout my academic career, I have often listened to, or been a part of, discussions about how to build a more inclusive academic community. To this end, academics of all disciplines sometimes consider the issue of racial representation among college or university faculty with the main concern being a disproportionately high number of White professors. Indeed, I was recently following a discussion among academics online in which one participant referred to academia as “suffering” from this over-representation of Whites among full time faculty.

The concern is that a college or university faculty without proper racial representation will not reflect the views of either the broader general U.S. population or the college student population, of which in both cases minorities are carving out larger shares due to changing demographics. Professors and students of different backgrounds (racial, ethnic, class, gender, etc…), it is argued, bring value to college campuses in that they bring different experiences and, thus, different perspectives on issues. This viewpoint diversity is essential to the mission of a university to seek truth through consideration of issues from multiple perspectives. I believe this argument makes sense and is fundamentally sound, as I have seen it play out on smaller scales in classroom discussions of complex issues among students of varying demographic backgrounds. Moreover, I see higher education’s first mission as the disinterested pursuit of truth, regardless of who holds it, who is offended by it, or how we arrive at it (within ethical bounds). So I certainly see value in having diverse voices in academic debates, even if I doubt perfect representative parity is always possible or needed.

Returning to my colleagues’ concern that higher education is “suffering” from a disproportionate number of white full-time faculty members, the statement struck me (anecdotally) as not having quite the resonance that it might have had nearly two decades ago, when as a student I first began to turn my attention toward a career in academia.

Consequently, I decided to check some current statistics and the numbers surprised me. This is what I found. Continue reading

Crusading as a Form of Pilgrimage

Because some level of merit historically had been attached to Christian warfare under limited and less defined circumstances, it was not particularly hard for clerical promoters of the First Crusade to convince Christian knights that fighting in defense of fellow Christians on God’s behalf was a virtuous act. Indeed, as Riley-Smith has demonstrated, the charters of knights participating in the First Crusade sometimes explicitly referenced the desire to aid eastern Christians suffering under Islamic rule as one of their motivations for participating. A charter of two brothers, for example, written shortly before they embarked on the First Crusade, notes that they were going on the crusade, in part, “…to wipe out the defilement of the pagans and the immoderate madness through which innumerable Christians have already been oppressed, made captive and killed with barbaric fury.”[1] In this case, Muslims were depicted as barbarians without reason and self control, dominated by rage, which of course was in contrast to what clerics were now asking knights to do, namely refrain from indiscriminate violence as they put their military skills to use in defense of fellow Christians. Continue reading

Seven Myths of Native American History: An Interview with Professor Paul Jentz

I first met Professor Paul Jentz at the World History Association annual conference in Savannah, Georgia in 2015. Alfred J. Andrea and I were serving as co-series editors of the newly formed Myths of History Series for Hackett Publishing, and Al wanted us to meet as he had been very impressed with Paul in his previous dealings through the WHA and elsewhere. Paul had a unique charm and cerebral wittiness that made him every bit as likable as Al had suggested. More significantly, he understood and appreciated the goals of the Myths of History Series well, which focuses on producing works that dispel popular historical myths and are geared toward use in the college or university classroom.

After meeting and speaking with Paul in Savannah, we came away very impressed and, after some follow up emails, Paul submitted a book proposal that resulted in a book contract. Later in the process, as Paul began to submit chapters, we were especially happy with the quality and clarity of Paul’s writing. Indeed, as I read through the rough drafts of various chapters, I was, at times, finding myself dispelled of myths about Native American history that I had previously embraced on some level. Our appreciation for Paul’s work was confirmed when Hackett sent the manuscript to important outside readers, including Colin G. Calloway at Dartmouth College and Andrae Marak at Governors State University, who noted the following: Continue reading

Hackett Publishing’s Myths of History Series

The following clip is taken from a longer interview with Dr. David Sheffler covering a range of topics. This clip considers the genesis of the book Seven Myths of the Crusades, and the Hackett series that resulted from it.

The series has also seen the publication of Seven Myths of the Civil War by Professor Wesley Moody and Seven Myths of Africa in World History by Professor David Northrup. A fourth book, Seven Myths of Native American History, by Professor Paul Jentz, will be published in March, 2018.

Alfred J. Andrea and I (as series editors) encourage any teaching historians who have an idea for a new book in the series to contact us to discuss it. Please email me directly at or contact Hackett Publishing.

Alan V. Murray on Seven Myths of the Crusades

“There has long been a great need for a book like this one, and it deserves a wide dissemination among the interested reading public and journalists as well as students and professional historians….anyone intending to make judgmental pronouncements on the aims and character of crusading would do well to read it and reflect carefully before rushing into print.”
—Alan V. Murray, University of Leeds

Blogging as a Crusade Historian

Here is a brief clip (5:50) from my longer interview with Dr. David Sheffler that considers public engagement and commentary as a historian. It explains how I began to provide public commentary and the reason I began blogging. It also considers how social media is influencing the way many people view the past.

Studying History at the University of North Florida

The following five and a half minute clip is part of a longer interview I did with Dr. David Sheffler, Chair of the History Department at the University of North Florida. In this clip we discuss the excellent history program at UNF (which offers both Bachelors and Masters degrees in history ) and how well it prepared me for my later doctoral studies at the University of Florida.

I genuinely think that UNF’s history program offers a wonderful opportunity for students to study the past in an environment that both demands rigor and gives one the opportunity to interact with extraordinarily well qualified professors and historians. This clip briefly considers study abroad opportunities, preparation for doctoral programs, graduate teaching assistantships, and the educational background and qualifications of the professors.

The department is a real gem for those interested in studying history in north Florida.

Crusade Historians and Steven Runciman

On the inside of the dustcover of his mammoth 768-page biography of the famed British historian Sir Steven Runciman, author Minoo Dinshaw notes:

“In his enormously long life, Steven Runciman managed not just to be a great historian of the Crusades and Byzantium, but Grand Orator of the Orthodox Church, a member of the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, [and] Greek Astronomer Royal and Laird of Eigg. His friendships, curiosities and intrigues entangled him in a huge array of different artistic movements, civil wars, Cold War betrayals and, above all, the rediscovery of the history of the Eastern Mediterranean. He was as happy living in a remote part of the Inner Hebrides as in the heart of Istanbul. He was obsessed with historical truth, but also with tarot, second sight, ghosts, and the uncanny.”

Continue reading

15 “Most Important” Books on the Crusades

The following list of books is based on a survey of 33 academic historians who were asked to provide an annotated list of what they saw as the ten “most important” books on the crusades. More information about the project can be seen here. Based on the same data, I also provide a ranking of the most influential historians based on how many mentions their books received from the historians, which can be viewed here. Continue reading