“One of the most misunderstood events in western history.” Thomas Madden, A Concise History of the Crusades
The Crusades, a series of alleged “holy wars” spanning two centuries, drew the peoples of Christian Europe and the Middle East into an unprecedented series of bloody, and ultimately inconclusive, conflicts. The saga of successive western incursions into the Holy Land during Europe’s Middle Ages stands out as one of the most pivotal chapters in modern history. Immortalized in folklore, its legacy resonates with the peoples of both cultures to this day, informing perceptions and often guiding policy. An examination of this period, in which seeds of distrust and suspicion are rooted, is critical to understanding the modern Middle East and the so-called “clash of civilizations” upon which much popular discourse is based.
Viewed through the lens of history, this course will offer a departure from popular, reductionist narratives of the Crusades. It will trace the roots of this transformative sequence of events, including the factors that precipitated and sustained a succession of crusading adventures, leaving in their wake popular narratives that endure to this day, narratives that have left an indelible imprint on both Eastern and Western societies.
Enhanced through readings, film, slides, and discussion, “The Legacy of the Crusades” will introduce first-person anecdotes and eyewitness accounts from medieval chroniclers from both Europe and the Middle East. Principle historical figures—Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, and St. Francis of Assis, and many others— will be examined in the context of their roles both on and off the battlefield.
Relying on historical record and individual accounts, it is expected that at the end of this course participants will have a clearer understanding of the meaning of this transformative era and its implications, including the enduring notion of an inherent and irrevocable impasse between East and West.