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
(Originally Published on 7/27/2017- Most recent update on 10/21/2017)
In a recent blog post, I requested the lists of several medieval historians ranking the ten “most important” books on the crusades. Currently, 33 historians have submitted their lists. Based on a count of the lists submitted so far, and not including books mentioned in the annotated commentary provided by each historian, I have pulled together the following ranking based on whose books have received the most mentions. Continue reading
Today, I read a curious essay in the Washington Post by Professor Matthew Gabriele, a fellow historian of the crusades, titled Islamophobes want to recreate the Crusades. But they don’t understand them at all. I’ve never met Professor Gabriele, but I am familiar with his otherwise solid scholarship and reputation for kindness. In his essay, he made some strong claims about what crusade historians believe, as well as the nature of the Islamic threat facing eastern Christians in the era of the First Crusade and how that threat was understood by western Christians at the time. I want to consider some points related to his comments on those issues here.
Professor Gabriele is most concerned with how modern people are comparing the situation in the era of the First Crusade with the troubling occurrences of modern Islamic terrorism in the West. He also objects to any notion that the crusades were, at least initially, a defensive response to Muslim aggression. He cites various modern westerners who are not specialists on the medieval crusading movement who have made statements romanticizing the crusades and arguing for their return.
I agree with Professor Gabriele that the past does not repeat itself and the situation of the eleventh century is certainly far different than the one we find ourselves in today in the twenty-first century. Crusading, in any form resembling the expeditions of the eleventh and twelfth century, is not the solution to the, as of yet, unsolvable problem of modern Islamic terrorism, which according to the Global Terrorism Index claims the lives of over 30,000 people worldwide per year, with most of them Muslims.
Where I disagree with Professor Gabriele, surprisingly, is in his understanding of crusading history and what crusade historians over the last thirty or forty years have written about the origins of the crusading movement. Continue reading
Above Image: Cover of issue 4 of the Islamic State’s glossy English language propaganda magazine. Many of its issues contain references to the crusades or explicit crusading rhetoric.
In 2015 I had the pleasure of co-editing (w/Alfred J. Andrea) the book Seven Myths of the Crusades (Hackett, 2015). It includes seven essays by prominent crusade historians dealing with various popular modern “myths” related to the medieval crusading movement. While recently preparing for an upcoming talk at Georgia Southern University, titled “The Modern Politics of Medieval Crusading,” I was carefully rereading the various chapters of Seven Myths, and thought it worthwhile to briefly highlight one of them here.
One of the historians who agreed to contribute to our project was the distinguished American medievalist Edward Peters, the former Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania (now Professor Emeritus). Over the course of his career, his work on medieval inquisitions has been highly influential and his translations of crusade texts have been used in college or university classrooms for nearly two decades. Consequently, when Ed agreed to contribute a chapter to Seven Myths, co-authored with his talented former doctoral student Mona Hammad (Associate Professor of Medieval History at the University of Jordan), Al and I were elated. The combination of the two authors was ideal in light of the topic they considered in their essay, titled “Islam and the Crusades: A Nine Hundred-Year-Long Grievance?”
The subject of their essay is a potentially controversial one, particularly as it argues that much of the Islamic world’s modern memory of the medieval crusades, a memory which frames the crusades as a largely unprovoked Christian attack on the Muslim world, serving as a constant source of division and mistrust today, was only developed in the 19th and 20th centuries during an age of western imperialism that influenced its construction. Moreover, Ed and Mona’s essay emphasizes that it was essentially the modern imperialist west that taught the modern Muslim world to hate the crusades, as there had been relatively little concern about them expressed in texts by Muslim authors in the centuries prior.
Having a well known and highly respected medievalist like Ed, as well as Mona, who is fluent in Arabic and lives and works in Jordan, seemed like (and proved to be) an ideal pairing for the chapter. Anyone seriously interested in the topic should, of course, consult their work, but here I want to highlight only a few key parts of their otherwise much lengthier and more engaging essay. Continue reading
As a follow up to a recent post on the scholarship of retired Cambridge University scholar Jonathan Riley-Smith, I also wanted to highlight (briefly) the work of UNC-Chapel Hill professor Marcus Bull (formerly at the University of Bristol), another influential crusade historian that has made an important argument concerning the religious roots of the crusading movement. With a focus on religious and social history, Bull has (like Riley-Smith) convincingly emphasized the religious appeal of crusading to knights in an important essay and book- both published in 1993.In these works, Bull refuted the long held Erdmann thesis, which argued that the rise of the crusading movement could be explained by papal schemes, inspired by the Peace and Truce of God movements, to simply export violent and rowdy trouble making knights to the Holy Land, thereby restoring peace at home and securing the resurgent papacy’s political power in Europe. Bull takes a different approach as he notes that where the Erdmann approach is most “open to criticism is in its emphasis upon the priorities of a small number of important prelates, canonists and theologians,” to the exclusion of the overwhelming majority of those who actually went on the crusade.
In any consideration of historians’ arguments about the appeal of the First Crusade to the earliest crusaders (as well as the circumstances by which it came about), Jonathan Riley-Smith must be front and center. No other scholar has had as much of an impact on the field of crusade studies over the past forty years than the now retired Cambridge University historian. Indeed, it is not an understatement to note that Riley-Smith, as the author of more than a dozen influential books and many influential essays, has revolutionized the modern historiography of the crusades. This was accomplished not only through his many important publications, but also the many doctoral students he taught at Cambridge who are now also professors at various institutions in North America and Europe that reflect his influence. His influence is also reflected in his role as a founder of the Society for the Study of the Crusades in the Latin East, the world’s leading scholarly society for the study of the crusades. Continue reading
Karen Armstrong is a former nun who writes broadly on political and religious issues including the crusades and Islam. As a well known critic of modern western attitudes towards Islam, Armstrong has often sought to draw attention to what she sees as historical injustices carried out by westerners in the East. She lists the crusades among these injustices. For example, in her work, Islam: A Short History, she writes:
It was, for example, during the Crusades, when it was Christians who had instigated a series of brutal holy wars against the Muslim world, that Islam was described by the learned scholar-monks of Europe as an inherently violent and intolerant faith, which had only been able to establish itself by the sword. The myth of the supposed fanatical intolerance of Islam has become one of the received ideas of the West. [pp. 179-180]
Of all of those currently writing on the crusades, her work is probably among the most popular and well known to the general public. In my case, I have had history students who have read her books in other settings come to me confused about apparent contradictions between what they were learning in my class and what they read in her book. I also once had a member of the general public, after reading a guest column I once wrote for the Florida Times Union, email me for the same reason, seeking clarification. The reason for these contradictions is because I have been trained as a medieval historian and work within the current dominant historiography of the crusades, much of which is decidedly at odds with some of the claims Armstrong makes in her works.