Sunday, April 7, 2013

Historians and Their Craft

The Crusades: 
The Authoritative History of the 
War for the Holy Land . 
Asbridge, Thomas 
Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.  (2010-03-13).

"Of course, humankind has always shown a proclivity for the deliberate misrepresentation of history. But the dangers attendant upon ‘crusade parallelism’ have proven to be particularly intense. Over the last two centuries, a fallacious narrative has taken hold. It suggests that the crusades were pivotal to the relationship between Islam and the West because they engendered a deep-rooted and irrevocable sense of mutual antipathy, leaving these two cultures locked in a destructive and perpetual war."

I'm beginning to think that a good historical novel is not only more enjoyable, but ultimately has more redeeming social value than writing history. Asbridge's history of the Crusades is a great book and helped me generally fix more clearly in my personal database the chronology of those two centuries along with the names and pedigrees of the big Muslim protagonists, especially Baybars. Sadly though for me Asbridge plays strange to Christianity and gives short shrift to western Christian sentiment in the Medieval period. He leaves me wondering about his intentions or personal prejudices when portraying as he does someone like St. Bernard of Clairvaux or even Louis IX, the sainted king of France. I guess you could say I am of the opinion that more reflection and discussion among a group of people might result from a common read of one of Louis de Wohl's hagiographical works than from this well written tome.

The fact is that so-called "immemorial traditions" may not even know a decade of years of life. Long-term collective memory exists to the extent that it is driven by frequent recollection, which in the case of hurts involves reopening old wounds long since scarred over. Not only as far as Islam is concerned, we can say that Crusaders also take it on the chin from Byzantium. The people who claim that one or the other sack of Constantinople during those 200 years, now more that 800 years gone by, are what render also in part eastern Christians mistrustful of Catholics play the same Al Qaeda game. Not even elephants have that long of a memory. Asbridge has worked hard to demonstrate that in the period and thereafter nobody took the marauding Franks of Outremere all that seriously, but that changes little if someone else does a better job of writing the story line.

 If you are a history buff, you will probably enjoy reading the book. I just want to say that more than ever I have my doubts about the redeeming social value of reading history. Bring on the novels!

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