Historiography in the Twenty-First Century The Relevance of the Crusades

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Muhammad Yaseen Gada



Books Reviewed: Thomas F. Madden, The Concise History of the Crusades,
3d ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014); Paul M. Cobb, The Race
for Paradise (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014); Jonathan Harris,
Byzantium and the Crusades, 2d ed. (London: Bloomsbury, 2014).

During the last six decades, historians have adopted various approaches to
studying the Crusades. Unfortunately, few contemporary Muslim scholars
have dealt with this topic at all. In the aftermath of 9/11, however, this series
of European military invasions of the Middle East began to reappear in the
media as analysts, historians, and academics posited that they were a precursor
of the region’s present sociopolitical disorder as daunting as the current East-
West discourse and relations between the Christian and Muslim worlds.1 Some
works deconstruct the perception that there is no connection between them,
whereas others view the Crusades from the Islamic perspective in an attempt
to balance the general triumphalist western narrative.2
This essay focuses on three recent works that, although dealing with different
standpoints, are explicitly interwoven. Thomas F. Madden’s The Concise
History of the Crusades “is an attempt to illuminate the complex relationship
of the past to the present” and narrates the Crusades in a “concise, understandable,
and engaging manner” (pp. vii, viii) based on modern scholarship; Paul
M. Cobb’s The Race for Paradise shows how medieval Muslims perceived
the Crusades and is based on his research primarily from original Islamic
sources (p. 6); and Jonathan Harris’ Byzantium and the Crusades concentrates
on the relations between Byzantium and the Latin West during the Crusades.
Madden’s book comprises ten chapters. Chapter 1, “The Call,” discusses
the crusading movement’s background as primarily an act of piety despite an
underlying current of selfish/secular desires, a fact that western scholars often
overlook. He also criticizes historians who believe that many Crusaders were
motivated by medieval Europe’s policy of “castoffs,” wherein only the first
son could inherit his father’s estate, by stating that the majority of crusading ...

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