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The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Remembrance of things past

This week's New Yorker brought back some old memories of college days. There's a review of two books by a pair of University of London scholars on two of the Crusades: the First, and the Fourth. Both of these scholars, Thomas Asbridge and Jonathan Phillips, argue that the great mid-20th-century historian Steven Runciman was too dour in his three-volume treatment of the Crusades. The theme of "positive violence" is used by the author of the review, Joan Acocella, to explain the contention of these "new" historians.

While their arguments are interesting -- religion and violence were vital to medieval life in ways that we may not fully comprehend, and the war-weariness of the 20th century may have clouded historians' perceptions of the Crusades -- I have to agree with Acocella in that these new books are not, ultimately, persuasive. Why, for instance, are the Western European Crusaders allowed to be swept away by religious convictions, while the Venetian Doge Enrico Dandolo is permitted to be wholly pragmatic? Are Asbridge and Phillips less interested in reshaping our perceptions and more interested in re-filling their bank accounts at Barclay's?

I'll get back to you after actually reading the books. There's a lot to sift through: these volumes, along with "I Am Charlotte Simmons." By the way, Acocella says that the First and Fourth are the "most interesting" Crusades. While they are certainly among the more well-known ones, along with the Third Crusade of Coeur de Lion, there are others that are equally compelling. And "Crusade" became such an all-inclusive term before long...


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