Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A second shameless plug

My younger sister, who styles herself "S.J. Allen" in the learned world, along with her co-editor and old friend, Emily Amt, have just brought out the second edition of their sourcebook, The Crusades:  A Reader.  It's published by the University of Toronto Press in its "Readings in Medieval Civilization and Cultures" series.

A sourcebook is always, I think, a good way to balance the unitary point of view of the narrative historian.  The sourcebook's editors, of course, have their own points of view, and an overall interpretive organization, but the presentation of blocks of material almost entirely in the voice of contemporaries helps avoid some of the modern biases and assumptions that can enter into any narrative. 

Among the additions to the second edition are a final group of pieces, from the Enlightenment on, ranging from David Hume to Pope John Paul II.  There is also a new chapter on a woman crusader, Margaret of Beverly, who participated in the defense of Jerusalem in 1187.

The collection, though centered on the conventional campaigns which we call the first, second, third, etc. crusades, includes other material relating to Christian/Moslem conflicts, including a 1530 treatise by our old friend Erasmus on an expected conflict in eastern Europe with the Ottomans.  The atmosphere he describes is strangely contemporary:

"...[W]henever the ignorant mob hears the name "Turk," they immediately fly into a rage and clamor for blood, calling them dogs and enemies to the name of Christian; it does not occur to them that, in the first place, the Turks are men, and, what is more, half-Christian; they never stop to consider whether the occasion of the war is just, nor whether it is practical to take up arms and thereby to provoke an enemy who will strike back with redoubled fury."

Erasmus is no pacifist, but he takes some exception to the stirring up of war fever by the circulation of graphic depictions of Turkish atrocities:

"...[P]ictures are painted showing examples of Turkish cruelty, but these ought in fact to remind us how reluctant we should be to make war against anyone at all, since similar "amusements" have been common in all the wars in which, over so many years, Christian has wickedly fought against Christian.  These paintings condemn their cruelty, yet worse crimes were perpetrated at Asperen, not by the Turks, but by my own countrymen, many of them even my friends."

I am therefore happy to again recommend the work of a more-talented family member.

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