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1st Crusade should not have succeeded…

“Why did the first Crusade succeed, and why should it not have?”

I often pose this question, or one substantially like it, in exams on the Crusades, or Church history, or medieval military or political history generally. It is interesting to me how few students take the second phrase as an invitation to a moral judgment. Are historians (or students of history) not allowed to weigh past events and persons, to write about why things should or should not have happened, based on our own moral compasses? Too bad that such liberties should be frowned upon. We are all told that nothing we write can be free of bias. Yet if objectivity is unattainable, why should we not indulge our moral compasses?

One student wrote: ”It should not have succeeded because it was ill-conceived, disorganized, and motivated in large degree by chauvanism, xenophobia, and greed.” In fact, an army largely motivated by those things should succeed quite well, I think: no troublesome scruples or complex perspectives to slow them up.

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