The Crusades, Fox News edition

This would seem to tell you all you really need to know about Rodney Stark’s God’s Batallions: The Case for the Crusades:

Clearly this is not the politically correct version of the Crusades, and that is fine: there is little that was politically correct about the Crusades in the first place. The difficulty I have with Stark’s account is not that it is controversial and even confrontational, but that his conclusions are often grounded in outdated historical sources—many of the same sources responsible for creating the portrayal of backward, barbaric Muslims in the first place.

Stark concedes that his book is not based on his own exploration of the primary sources. He writes: “Many superb historians have devoted their careers to studying aspects of the Crusades. I am not one of them.” Instead, he describes himself a synthesizer of existing research. The curious thing is that much of the research he uses to refute the historical accounts of the past generation is itself over 30 years old. Does God’s Battalions, then, prove that the accounts of contemporary historians are wrong, or does it merely revisit and resurrect the scholarly accounts that gave rise to contemporary Crusades historiography in the first place?

If you’re writing as a popularizer or a synthesizer, you’re conceding that you don’t have first-hand expertise in the subject matter. All the more important, then, to rely on state-of-the-art scholarship. Unless, that is, your goal is to grind a particular ideological axe.

7 thoughts on “The Crusades, Fox News edition

  1. George McVicker

    May I remind you that if in your writing and you don’t have first hand knowledge or expertise in the subject matter you are only grinding your ideology in doing a review. Your comments when you are guessing are really all one need to know about your recent post.

  2. The fact that anyone would even write a book called “The case for x” when x happened 800+ years ago is itself a red flag. The whole point of doing history is to understand the past, not enlist it into our current culture wars.

  3. Lee,

    Can you provide a cliff’s notes version of how the historical perspective on the Crusades has changed over the last century or so?

    I infer from your writings it has, but I’m not knowledgeable about this.

  4. In some fields, the bulk of the relevant primary source material has been the same for decades if not centuries. Changes in scholarly opinion may well be due more to changes in ideology (for better or for worse) than truly new findings. I would say that a popularizer or synthesizer is probably worth little if he or she has no familiarity with the subject matter. The choice of newer accounts might put one closer to the truth, but it might not. That’s more of a probabilistic argument at that point. And such a writer will not even be in a position of weighing why to go with one account rather than another. If, however, the writer has done enough research to justify writing, then he or she is free to decide which scholars to lean on. Use of only older scholars does raise questions. I would accept such a choice if it were well-argued.

    I would also shy away from accounts that smell of culture war, either from the right or from the left, even if I agreed with the political views of the writer.

  5. bre

    I am a middle school teacher in NC and came across your site while researching the Crusades for my history class this year. I just wanted to thank you for the great information and articles.

    We would love it if you could write a couple articles for us, link to us to help us spread trusted resources to other teachers, or even if Tweet or “Like Us” on Facebook. Anything is much appreciated in our quest to spread trusted resources.

    Thanks and keep the great resources coming

    Bre Matthews

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