Today a guest review by Real Crusades History editor Scott Amis.
Scott compares two recent releases that catalogue and comment on the most important primary sources for the crusades:
The Crusades: A Reader by Allen and Amt, eds
Competing Voices from the Crusades by Holt and Muldoon, eds.
Primary sources, documents and artifacts originally written, created, or built over the course of historical events, are indispensable instruments of scholarly enquiry and a fundamental part of the language of professional historians. Fortunately, records written in the times and languages of the Crusading era exist in abundance; many translated into English and other modern languages. These will already be closely familiar to advanced undergraduate students of medieval history; to those undertaking independent study or new to the subject, the vast array quoted and cited in texts, articles, and papers can seem, at first, arcane and bewildering.
For students of the Crusades seeking to pierce a seemingly cryptic veil and gain a broad preliminary acquaintance with pertinent primary sources, The Crusades: A Reader and Competing Voices from the Crusades will prove particularly valuable. Composed by editors of highest scholarly qualification, both books capture the captivating and complex sphere of the medieval mind, yet remain easily readable throughout.
In The Crusades: A Reader, editors S.J Allen and Emilie Amt begin their well-organized narrative with fourth century accounts of pilgrimages and the writings of Augustine of Hippo, progress through a series of chapters in which original documents are examined in chronological order, and end with the fifteenth century and the beginnings of the Age of Exploration. Christian and Islamic sources are both well-represented, with accompanying commentaries clearly written, informative, and unencumbered by political concerns of the present. Most importantly, the first chapter is amply devoted to accounts which preceded the First Crusade, thus providing crucially important evidence that the events of 1095 were by no means spontaneous. The absence of footnotes might be of consternation to those disposed to further enquiry; in a superb volume targeted toward a beginning audience or use as a convenient reference source, but a small flaw.
Competing Voices from the Crusades, expertly edited by Andrew Holt and James Muldoon, begins with an introduction which distinctly clarifies the contrast between popular and politicized perceptions of the Crusades and the restraint of the works of disciplined scholars, explains the 'traditionalist' and 'pluralist' perspectives, and concisely summarizes events prior to the First Crusade. Presented in much the same chronological order as The Crusades: A Reader, Competing Voices essentially concentrates on materials relevant to the Holy Land Crusades of 1095-1099 through the fall of Acre in 1291, yet ventures into topics such as life on a Crusade, life in the Crusader States, and Crusades and canon law. The editorial commentaries are particularly outstanding, both in their engaging style and comprehensive discussion of each chapter and selection. Graphically, the book represents a refreshing departure from the usual college-textbook format, and those who wish to pursue supplementary materials - footnotes elaborately explained, maps, and timelines - will find no disappointments.
In the space of a short review, I can only generalize, not touching on the many aspects which make these excellent volumes desirable, indeed necessary, for serious students of the Crusades. Suffice to say, each is deserving of five stars and the highest recommendation from Real Crusades History.