Tag Archives: Karen Armstrong

Guest Essay: A Colony by Any Other Name: The Latin States of Syria-Palestine

Above Image: Historian Alfred J. Andrea walking along the famous markets at Portobello Road in London.

The following essay is the text, slightly revised, of a brief talk given by historian Alfred J. Andrea at the International Medieval Congress at Leeds, U.K., on July 3rd, 2019. Dr. Andrea, Professor Emeritus of the University of Vermont and former President of the World History Association, gave these introductory comments as part of a panel considering crusade myths that also included historians Natasha R. Hodgson, Alan V. Murray, and Aphrodite Papayianni. Here Dr. Andrea provides a nuanced reassessment of the issues of colonialism and crusading. In keeping with current scholarly views of the crusades, Dr. Andrea agrees that comparisons of the crusader states with modern 19th and 20th century western colonial models are wrong. Yet, as a world historian, Dr. Andrea also points out that historically there have been many forms of colonialization worldwide.

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A Colony by Any Other Name: The Latin States of Syria-Palestine

Guest Essay by Alfred J. Andrea

Joshua Prawer famously argued in his 1972 study of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem that the economies, societies, and institutions of the states of the Latin East, and predominantly those of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, are understandable only if one realizes that they were colonies of Western Europe and especially so of Franco-Europe.[1] He further maintained that it was only with the crusades that colonialism became a major factor in world history, and in that sense  “the Crusader kingdom” was the first European colonial society.

Leaving aside for the moment Prawer’s argument that the states of the Latin East were Western Europe’s initial venture into global colonialism, the fact is that the states of the Latin East are viewed in the popular imagination as examples of early Western colonialism. In the words of Karen Armstrong, whose best-selling books have misguided many who seek to understand the crusades, “These soldiers of Christ established European colonies in the Middle East and began to dream of world domination.”[2]

In reaction to similar popular, often overstated and erroneously envisioned notions of crusader colonialism—a colonialism misrepresented in numerous media, including such films as The Kingdom of Heaven (2005)[3]—a significant number of eminent scholars have derided the very idea of a colonial Latin East as unadulterated myth.[4]  Thomas Madden, for example, referring to the four states that comprised the Latin East, argues that: Continue reading

Crusade Historians and Karen Armstrong

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.

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