Historiography of the Crusades

Topics: First Crusade, Crusades, Council of Clermont Pages: 10 (3509 words) Published: February 24, 2014

Craft of Histoy

Over the course of the last sixty years, The Crusades have been a topic of passionate scholarly debate and investigation. Often considered to be one of the most unique movements in human history, The Crusades have been marveled by historians and readers alike. While scholarly enthusiasm for The Crusades was certainly not deficient throughout the latter half of the 20th century, interest in The Crusades has increased considerably within the last decade following the September 11th attacks in 2001. Post 9/11, thousands of scholarly articles and books probing and challenging the scholarship of The Crusades have been issued. For example, historical author Karen Armstrong, re-issues her book Holy War whenever a potential conflict in the Middle East is reported. After the 9/11 attacks, Armstrong re-issued her book with a new introduction within months of the attack.1 Parallel to fields of study that involve war and religion, interest in The Crusades increases largely at the start of religious conflicts. Recently, the scholarship on the crusades has changed dramatically as historians have begun to challenge the ideas presented by the seminal monograph in the field written by Steven Runciman in 1951: A History of the Crusades. Runciman’s monograph is arguably the most widely acclaimed and well known work on The Crusades; naturally, the monograph is cited universally in the footnotes of modern monographs on the subject and is used as a bench-mark of comparison for other works on The Crusades. A History of the Crusades presents the predictable view point of The Crusades: a vicious series of wars orchestrated by restless land-hungry crusaders against a peaceful and thriving Muslim society. Within the monograph, Runciman traces the complete history of The Crusades while focusing on its conflicts and antecedents. In contrast to recent scholarly works on The Crusades, Runciman views the crusaders with much skepticism. A History of the Crusade shies away from a romantic portrayal Pope Urban II’s speech at Clermont and the recapturing of Jerusalem that authors on the subject adopted prior to the issuance of the monograph. Several decades later during the height of the United States’ involvement in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, interest in the Crusade spiked as new scholars began to challenge the ideas presented by the classic works of the past. In 1986, acclaimed crusade historian Johnathan Riley-Smith released a monograph entitled: The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading. Building off the works of his influential predecessors (Carl Erdmann specifically), Riley-Smith’s monograph focuses on the evolution of the idea of the crusade that was formally presented by Pope Urban II in 1095. He traces the idea of the crusade from Pope Urban to the personal accounts of the crusaders at the war’s conclusion. The influence Riley-Smith and Runciman’s seminal monographs was certainly apparent in the series of monographs released by crusade historians following the 9/11 attacks. Among the excess of works analyzing The Crusades released during the 21st century was The First Crusade: A New History, a monograph issued in 2004 by Thomas Asbridge. Asbridge’s monograph challenges many of the claims presented by his predecessors and is representative of the new research available to historians recently. He denies that the crusaders themselves were highly influenced by colonialism and refutes that The Crusade army was not as factitious as it was portrayed by past historians. To enforce his claims, Asbridge uses a wide variety of sources including paintings, photographs, and maps that reflect the modern characteristic of his writing style. The progression of thought on The Crusades reflects the exposure to new research for historians over time and the pertinent events that influenced the writing of each monograph respectively.

In reference to the first published volume of A History of the Crusades (1951), Runciman described his...

Cited: Acocella, Joann. "Holy Smoke." The New Yorker. N.p., 13 Dec. 2004. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.
Asbridge, Thomas S. The First Crusade: A New History. New York: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.
Madden, Thomas F. "First Things." Crusaders and Historians (2005): n. pag. Web.
Riley-Smith, Jonathan Simon Christopher. The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1986. Print.
Runciman, Steven. A History of the Crusades. Cambridge [England: Cambridge UP, 1951. Print.
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