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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Tue 05 Nov, 2013 8:15 pm    Post subject: Teaching the Crusades         Reply with quote

I have an opportunity to teach high school students about the Crusades, as part of the International Baccaulareate Middle Years Program. Although I know a fair amount about the Middle Ages, the crusades are not something I have studied in too much depth, and most of the admittedly limited reading I have done is either on the First Crusade or the Third Crusade. In order to teach the crusades, I will need to read up more on the topic, along with making sure I study the "lesser known" elements like the Albigensian crusade and the northern crusades of the Teutonic knights.

In the meantime, I was wondering: what things do you feel are often neglected or left out about the crusades when they are taught in school? What aspects of crusading are underemphasized or de-emphasized? I am sure one complaint many people will have is about the de-emphasis of the role of faith as a motivation for the crusaders, and perhaps Georges Duby's theory about "second sons". But are there other things which you feel should be included that are often not?
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Christian Borglum




Location: California
Joined: 21 Feb 2010

Posts: 37

PostPosted: Wed 06 Nov, 2013 8:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Craig,

What aspects of crusading are underemphasized or de-emphasized? Oh boy, huge topic! I think that medieval history in general and the crusader period in particular is taught really poorly in U.S. schools.

1. You're absolutely right that the religious motivations of the individual crusaders are significantly underemphasized in mainstream contemporary teaching. When I was in school, the crusades were largely portrayed to us as an exercise in Western European aggression, with second sons and landless knights rampaging across the Mediterranean slaughtering and plundering in the name of God. While the Pope wanted to just redirect all of the excess aggression and violence anywhere outside of Europe. This is a gross mischaracterization of history as seen through the eyes of 20th century writers more familiar with the abuses of industrial age imperialism run amuck.

2. The economic costs of crusading were huge! Europeans by and large, did NOT get rich plundering the holy land. Crusaders had to pay for transport, pay for food along their journey, buy supplies and portage. Most nobles who went on Crusade attempted to raise the equivalent of 3-4 years of income in preparation for undertaking the journey. Many of them SOLD LANDS and borrowed money to go. Just look up Godfrey de Bouillon. He was one of the leaders of the first crusade. Prior to leaving, he sold most of his lands, including one of the largest castles in Europe at the time just to raise funds. "Landless knights" and "second sons" didn't have the resources to do this on their own, they could only go on crusade as the retainer of a much greater noble or by joining one of the holy orders.

3. Most school texts do not do a good job putting the crusades within historical context. Pope Urban II called for the first crusade in 1095. The Normans had finished retaking Sicily in 1091 after over two centuries of Muslim rule. Islamic Sicilian and North African pirates had raided the coasts of Italy continuously well into the eleventh century.
In 1095, the Eastern Roman Empire was at a territorial and military nadir, and appeared on the verge of collapse. Constantinople was still considered "The Jewel of Chirstiandom", the capitol of the Christian world. Emperor Romanos Diogenes was deposed after the disaster at Manzikert in 1071 and a civil war had followed weakening the Empire. In the 1080's Turkomans recruited into the Byzantine armies garrisoning many of the fortresses and cities or Anatolia essentially defected to the Seljuk Turks and the Empire lost a third of it's territory.
Most of Spain had been under Muslim rule for almost three centuries, and in 1086 a combined Christian army of Leon, Castile, and Aragon had been defeated in battle by a new wave of Almoravid invaders under Yusuf ibn Tashfin. The Castilians were defeated by an Almoravid army again outside the walls of Seville in 1091. From the perspective of Christian Europeans, their world had been under nearly continuous military assault by Islamic forces for over 300 years.

The crusades are a very complex social and political phenomenon which took place over several centuries. The character, motivation, and goals of each crusade were different. One of the best things we can hope to accomplish may simply be not to over generalize them.

Christian Borglum
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Daniel Wallace




Location: Pennsylvania USA
Joined: 07 Aug 2011

Posts: 580

PostPosted: Wed 06 Nov, 2013 8:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

i don't think it can be put much better than as Christian stated here above. motivations differed - in middle school i remember crusade as being like a huge religious blood lust on another culture. when actually the rules or war were quite similar to what as practiced in Europe.

first crusade, yes, Urban sought to redirect European aggression for the greater good of Europe. reasons for why they went, when you read about the first hand accounts you will get a scene of both religious motivation from some key princes, and wealth and gain from others.
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Timo Nieminen




Location: Brisbane, Australia
Joined: 08 May 2009
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PostPosted: Wed 06 Nov, 2013 12:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

How about local politics? Not like the enemy was a uniform unified state - the unfriendly relations, and open fighting in many cases, between the various Syrian states, and Egypt, and the Caliphate in Baghdad made a huge contribution to the success of the First Crusade.

Then the Crusader States became integrated into this conflict, sometimes with one alliance including both Moslem and Crusader states fighting another alliance including both Moslem and Crusader states.

Frederick II's recovery of Jerusalem makes for a nice case study of the role of politics and religion.

Might be overambitious to try to cover all that in middle school, perhaps good for high school.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.


Last edited by Timo Nieminen on Fri 08 Nov, 2013 7:43 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Jon Pellett




Location: Kamloops, BC, Canada
Joined: 01 May 2007

Posts: 14

PostPosted: Thu 07 Nov, 2013 9:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Christian Borglum wrote:

1. You're absolutely right that the religious motivations of the individual crusaders are significantly underemphasized in mainstream contemporary teaching. When I was in school, the crusades were largely portrayed to us as an exercise in Western European aggression, with second sons and landless knights rampaging across the Mediterranean slaughtering and plundering in the name of God. While the Pope wanted to just redirect all of the excess aggression and violence anywhere outside of Europe. This is a gross mischaracterization of history as seen through the eyes of 20th century writers more familiar with the abuses of industrial age imperialism run amuck.


Just wanted to note that while this motivation certainly should not be overemphasized, it *was* explicitly noted by the chroniclers of the time.

Robert the Monk's report of Pope Urban's speech launching the First Crusade is remarkable in straight out stating that population pressure was the cause of war: " Let none of your possessions detain you, no solicitude for your family affairs, since this land which you inhabit, shut in on all sides by the seas and surrounded by the mountain peaks, is too narrow for your large population; nor does it abound in wealth; and it furnishes scarcely food enough for its cultivators. Hence it is that you murder one another, that you wage war, and that frequently you perish by mutual wounds. Let therefore hatred depart from among you, let your quarrels end, let wars cease, and let all dissensions and controversies slumber. Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulchre; wrest that land from the wicked race, and subject it to yourselves. That land which as the Scripture says "floweth with milk and honey," was given by God into the possession of the children of Israel Jerusalem is the navel of the world; the land is fruitful above others, like another paradise of delights."

Also in the account of Fulcher of Chartres: "Let those who have been accustomed unjustly to wage private warfare against the faithful now go against the infidels and end with victory this war which should have been begun long ago. Let those who for a long time, have been robbers, now become knights. Let those who have been fighting against their brothers and relatives now fight in a proper way against the barbarians. Let those who have been serving as mercenaries for small pay now obtain the eternal reward. Let those who have been wearing themselves out in both body and soul now work for a double honor."
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Ben Coomer




Location: Colorado
Joined: 06 Sep 2011

Posts: 184

PostPosted: Thu 07 Nov, 2013 6:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The last two history classes have used a educational roleplaying game called "Reacting to the Past," and both of them were based on the Council of Acre for the Second Crusade and as a demo using the Question of Secession for Kentucky. Basically students take the roles of individuals at historical events, using historical documents and sources to assume the character. There are of course rules, objectives and the like, and vastly different results than history can come out, but in getting students to read actual sources and try to think why things happen in history, as well as how complex things really are (you try to explain that the Templars were allied with the local Muslims against the Crusading kings without getting into what was culturally happing then).

Guess this is more of a general suggestion for improving history courses and I will admit that I was a spokesperson at the college for it, so I do have a bias. But it does really work in making history more than a series of dates, in my experience
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Ian Hutchison




Location: Louisiana / Nordrhein-Westholland
Joined: 27 Nov 2007

Posts: 454

PostPosted: Thu 07 Nov, 2013 7:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig, I'm happy to hear you are planning to teach about the Crusades for IB MYP. I did the MYP and IB and would have loved to have done the Crusades. IIRC we covered 19th century European history & revolutions. Other than learning about the unification of Germany and the Chinese Civil War, it was pretty boring. I would have loved to have done the Crusades or any medieval history. It seems like in most educational programs the focus is on ancient and/or recent history, and very rarely the middle ages.

Nonetheless, I feel the MYP IB is great for preparing students to do research, it really emphasizes gathering and vetting sources and writing essays.

As for suggestions; while of course faith was compelling in a way unfamiliar to most of us today, and religious motivations may have been the primary concern of most participants; I think it would be a simplification to excise the political machinations and the ramifications they had e.g. alliances between Christians and Muslims, inter-factional conflict etc.

'We are told that the pen is mightier than the sword, but I know which of these weapons I would choose.' - Adrian Carton de Wiart
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Thu 07 Nov, 2013 8:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Even now, the IB program is heavily biased towards modern history. I'm not even sure that all students cover the Crusades in MYP, and even if they do, many teachers really have a rather basic framework to teach students: the so-called "feudal pyramid", the idea that faith is everything, etc. In the diploma program, pretty much the only thing you can study is still 20th century history. It's almost as though history teachers at the high school level assume "history has to be connected with the modern times; students want to learn about history relevant to now." My response is maybe. But students also want to learn about history that is fun and exciting, and something colourful like the Middle Ages might be a lot more fun for some students than communism, WWI and WWII, the Cold War, and so forth.
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Ian Hutchison




Location: Louisiana / Nordrhein-Westholland
Joined: 27 Nov 2007

Posts: 454

PostPosted: Thu 07 Nov, 2013 8:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
It's almost as though history teachers at the high school level assume "history has to be connected with the modern times; students want to learn about history relevant to now." My response is maybe. But students also want to learn about history that is fun and exciting, and something colourful like the Middle Ages might be a lot more fun for some students than communism, WWI and WWII, the Cold War, and so forth.


Yes, I got that same vibe. In fact, I had completely forgotten the fact that we did Communism/Cold War in IB, we certainly didn't do Crusades. Come to think of it, we managed to study history without hardly covering any war (Chinese Civil War excepted). Well, I'm glad you're able to do this, I didn't know that the crusades were part of the official curriculum you could choose from.

'We are told that the pen is mightier than the sword, but I know which of these weapons I would choose.' - Adrian Carton de Wiart
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Theo Squires





Joined: 23 Jul 2012

Posts: 64

PostPosted: Fri 08 Nov, 2013 2:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Having done IB History Higher Level just recently, I guess I know a few things from the student side. The IB has two routes for high school history (at the diploma level; don't know about the MYP level). Route One focuses on Europe and the Middle East, covering a wide range of medieval history. Route Two is 20th Century world history, covering European diplomacy 1870-WW1, interwar years 1919-1939, Spanish Civil War, Cold War 1945-1991, China 1920-1991 and some other stuff. With both Route 1 and Route 2 there are 'options'/'electives' which means the class chooses to focus on specific topics. For example, I did Developments in the Middle East 1945-2000, WW1 and one other. Point is, the IB does require a lot of work and study in a range of topics for History at the diploma level.

The strengths of the IB in history, I believe, are that it teaches a critical approach to history. There is strong emphasis on sources and on evaluating sources. Additionally, the course (this applies to Route 1 and 2) analyses historiography and different schools of thought, the works of prominent historians etc. While I understand some people would rather study a wider range of topics rather than focus on the 20th century, the focus on technique, critical awareness, ability to research and form arguments, come to judgements - these are all invaluable skills regardless of what is being studied.

I didn't do the MYP, because it was introduced for the year below mine, so I can't really help with that. I did study the First Crusade in middle school. What I'd say is trying to teach all of the crusades is too much for one year. That's a huge time span. In my opinion it would be best to focus on the First Crusade and do it in some more depth than try and cover them all, because the motivations changed, the context changed - especially if you're looking at the Prussian/Baltic Crusade as well. Of course, if the syllabus says do it all, then I guess you have no choice, but in that case the syllabus would be wrong and bad and you should ignore it. It feels much more satisfying to have a good knowledge of a smaller time period than a specious knowledge of a vast period. More importantly, it is far more helpful to develop the critical skills of history in the MYP than to know a little bit about medieval history 1095-1400. I am, of course, all for history and young people knowing things, and am constantly disappointed at the lack of knowledge of my peers about history and basic world geography (where's Bucharest? Is Lisbon the capital of Peru? Wasn't Bismarck one of Hitler's advisers? etc.), but I would advise against trying to cover too much.

I agree with what you're saying about the simplifications of the "feudal pyramid", the role of faith and so on. The weakness of teaching the history of medieval Europe at a younger level is that it's usually not something that students will study again at a higher level, so the simplifications stick. To truly understand medieval Europe is an immense task. I'd suggest you show your students some cathedrals, talk about how old they are, how well built they are, how expensive they would be, how long they took to build. Nothing hammer's home the importance of faith to medieval Europe quite like looking at cathedrals. In all seriousness, if all you did was talk about the history of cathedrals and churches for one year, then you'd cover pretty most things worth knowing about medieval and renaissance Europe.
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