Tag Archives: Andrew Holt

Historians Rank the “Most Important” Books on the Crusades

 

“As I write these words, it is nearly time to light the lamps; my pen moves slowly over the paper and I feel myself almost too drowsy to write as the words escape me. I have to use foreign names and I am compelled to describe in detail a mass of events which occurred in rapid succession; the result is that the main body of the history and the continuous narrative are bound to become disjointed because of interruptions. Ah well, “’tis no cause for anger” to those at least who read my work with good will. Let us go on.”

Anna Comnena, Alexiad 13.6, trans. by E.R.A. Sewter

Provided here are the responses of 33 medieval historians who were asked to provide a list of the top ten “most important” books on the crusades. Many of them are leading scholars in the field. Hopefully, it will be a useful resource for both students and interested readers. For more information, please see the Crusade Book List Project and to see each historian’s list click on their name below (or you can scroll and browse through them below). Please hit the back button to return to the contributor’s list. Also, check back in the future for additional contributions that will be added over time. This will be an ongoing project.

See also: 15 “Most Important” Books on the Crusades

See also: The Most Influential Crusade Historians

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Seven Myths of the Crusades: An Interview

Alfred J. Andrea and I recently had the opportunity to do an interview with Medievalists.net focusing on our recent book Seven Myths of the Crusades (Hackett Publishing, 2015). The book has been well received so far, with a number of nice endorsements from leading crusade historians (which can be viewed here).

Medievalists.net provided some excellent questions that allowed Al and I to provide some in depth responses considering a number of important issues.

One of the questions asked why we chose to write the book. My partial response is below.

“I do want to address your question, however, as to why we wanted to create another book on the crusades, specifically taking the approach of countering modern popular crusade myths. We and the contributors all agreed that the prevalence of the myths that we address in this book are repeated so regularly in all media, especially popular films and literature, as well as in political speeches and commentary, that it was worthwhile to pull together a book, written and edited by scholars, that targets general readers and undergraduates. The goal is to explain to the reader why scholars tend to see the issues covered in the chapters quite differently than popular accounts often suggest. We wanted to give readers a sense of the complexity of each of the historical issues dealt within the chapters and why historians often disagree with common popular, often unnuanced interpretations of historical events. It is a topic that crusade historians discuss among themselves quite often, occasionally publishing articles in popular publications and on the web to make such a point to just such an audience. So the essays we have collected here do not represent new or cutting-edge scholarship. Rather, our goal is to communicate current scholarship to undergraduates and a general reading public. Moreover, we want to make that scholarship accessible, affordable, and engaging in a way that many academic books are not.”

Please read the full interview here.

Historians on Susan Jacoby’s New York Times Essay on the First Crusade

In defense of President Obama, who had recently been criticized for his comparison of the medieval crusaders to modern Islamic terrorists (see my response here), the New York Times published an essay on Friday (“The First Victims of the First Crusade”) by Susan Jacoby. Her essay highlighted the brutal attack on Jews during the First Crusade and, once again, equated the crusaders with modern Islamic terrorists. She wrote, “Anyone who considers it religiously and politically transgressive to compare the behavior of medieval Christian soldiers to modern Islamic terrorism might find it enlightening to read this bloody story.” She then described the horrors of the slaughter and compared it with the killing of religious minorities recently carried out by ISIS in the Middle East.

Jacoby then ended her piece with an odd celebration of the virtues of the post-Enlightenment West. In it, she contrasted the medieval Christian past with the modern post-Enlightenment western world, arguing that groups like ISIS “offer a ghastly and ghostly reminder of what the Western world might look like had there never been religious reformations, the Enlightenment and, above all, the separation of church and state.”

Jacoby’s comments, particularly those contrasting the medieval and modern west, caused a stir among medieval historians, much of it negative.

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President Obama, ISIS, and the Crusades

Since President Obama’s controversial speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb 5th, during which he compared the medieval crusades (as a form of religious extremism) with the religious extremism of modern terrorist groups like the ISIS, crusades historians have been busy writing a number of pieces that address the issue. Medieval historian Dan Franke has given a comprehensive overview (with links) of the various debates that have taken place. I’d suggest that those unfamiliar with these arguments and discussions start by reading his overview provided here.

Although a bit late to the party, I have also offered my two-cents on the issue in an guest column published by the Florida Times-Union. See Guest Column: Crusades were a Reaction to Islamic Militarism– Florida Times-Union.

A selection from that column is provided below.

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“Significantly, it was in large part because of a period of heightened threat to Christians in the East during the late 11th Century that the First Crusade was called, as Muslim armies had recently conquered much of once Christian Anatolia.

For more than 20 years, Byzantine emperors had been requesting (and sometimes pleading for) military aid from Western Christians until they finally received it in the form of the First Crusade as called by Pope Urban II in 1095.

As retired Cambridge University historian Jonathan Riley-Smith once noted, “The denigrators of the crusades stress their brutality and savagery, which cannot be denied; but they offer no explanation other than the stupidity, barbarism and intolerance of the crusaders, on whom it has become conventional to lay most blame. Yet the original justification for crusading was Muslim aggression…”

This brings us back to Obama’s comments. I found them problematic for reasons cited by Riley-Smith.

The president told critics of modern Islamic violence to get off their “high horse” by citing the crusades as an example of similar Christian violence. Paradoxically the crusades were largely the product of medieval Islamic violence.”

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Edit: Dan Franke continues to keep us updated on the current debate taking place online and in print. Here he links to the most recent articles, including my own, and even an online discussion I had the other night with two medieval historians, David Perry and Paul Halsall, about some of these issues. See Dan’s addendum here and my exchange (on David Perry’s website) with David and Paul here.

Medieval Warfare, The First Crusade, and Rape: Lessons for the Present?

Above Image: Francis Rita Ryan’s translation of Fulcher (Fulk) of Chartres A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem- 1095-1127 (University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 1969).

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On January 3, 2015, I had the chance to present a paper for the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in New York City. I am presenting the basic text of my talk below. Anyone familiar with the dynamics of presenting papers at academic conferences will realize this is a very condensed overview of my broader consideration of the topic.

My paper was titled “Rape and the First Crusade.” It considers the oddity of the First Crusade as it related to the issue. While the wartime rape of captured women (and sometimes men) was common by all medieval armies, Christian or Islamic, the participants of the First Crusade generally seem to have avoided the practice. Indeed, the sources, whether friendly or hostile to the crusaders, seem to agree on the issue. This presentation pulls together some disconnected themes already considered by other historians into a broader and more comprehensive narrative to argue that the theoretical framework of the First Crusade contributed to a new mentality among warriors by which they sought to avoid sexual immorality, including rape, if they were to be successful on the battlefield.

This seems worthwhile to post here because the wartime rape of captive women continues to be a major problem today. One need only consider events in Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990s, or more recent events with Boko Haram in Nigeria or ISIS in Iraq over the past few months. See my recent blog post on the issue here. What is most interesting about the First Crusade (as it relates to this topic) is that this potentially represents a case in which a theological framework for warfare seems to have, at the least, diminished instances of rape by otherwise violent warriors who had become accustomed to such practices prior to the First Crusade. If medieval Christian clerics could find a way to curtail, if not eliminate, such a brutal practice by Christian warriors in their day, then perhaps there is some small kernel of value in studying this for dealing with similar problems in the present.

yaz Boko

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An Interview with Dr. Florin Curta on Communism, Faith, and Academia

Dr. Florin Curta, Professor of History and Archaeology at the University of Florida, is one of the leading medieval historians in the world. His language capabilities, which include a reading knowledge of no less than eleven languages (including some he does not bother to list on his C.V.), are rarely matched even among academics. Moreover, his ten books, many on very complex historical issues, have consistently received positive reviews from his fellow historians with one winning the American Historical Associations’ Herbert Baxter Adams Prize in 2003. See links to his C.V. and publications here.

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Yet while his academic background is exceptional, his personal background is (at least) equally fascinating. Dr. Curta grew up in Romania while it was under communist rule. As a young man he was drafted into the Romanian army where he served as a paratrooper. Once he was done jumping out of perfectly good airplanes with a rifle strapped to his back, he pursued his education in Romania as both a historian and archaeologist. One could suggest, only half jokingly, that he was the original Indiana Jones. Continue reading

The Unrelenting and Exhausting Pace of Islamist Violence

Yesterday, more than 130 school children were executed in Pakistan by the Taliban. Now, more than 150 women (some pregnant) were killed in Iraq for refusing to submit to ISIS’ new policy of sexual jihad, which is in some ways reminiscent of Boko Haram’s recent sexual enslavement of 200 Christian school girls in Nigeria. Prior to all of this, we watched “lone wolf” dramas play out regularly on our television screens, including the recent deadly hostage situation in Sydney, and before that the killings of the two Canadian soldiers, and prior to that various attacks in the U.S. (including a beheading of a woman and a hatchet attack on NYPD cops), as well as many other recent examples of Islamist violence or attempted violence against both Muslims and non-Muslims throughout the world (China, Russia, Netherlands, France, etc…). Indeed, there are currently more than 20 nations (over a broad geographical spectrum) where Islamists are planning or actively committing violence (on various scales). These include several nations in the Middle East, but also in Africa, Europe, Asia, etc…

It is unrelenting and exhausting if you try to keep up with this sort of thing (as I try to do because of my occasional opportunities to provide analysis for local news organizations). It also seems that Continue reading