HIST 201 ( First Year Seminar): the Early Crusades

9:30-10:45 TTh, Monroe 233

Instructor: Bruce R. O’Brien, Monroe 215; (540) 654-1477;; office hours TTh 1-2, 3:30-5, or by appointment.

Course Goals

This seminar (which counts for both the required FSEM and as an elective in the history major) is designed for first year students interested in a rich and challenging introduction to historical work on one of the foundational eras in European and Middle Eastern history, one with continuing contemporary resonance.  The seminar considers the origin and conduct of crusading in its first century from the perspective of Christians, Muslims, and Jews.  Students will read extensively in the primary sources written from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish perspectives; will learn how to analyze chronicles and other records; will become familiar with the basic geography and events of the period.  In general terms, students will develop:

  • an ability to synthesize research findings
  • comprehension of historical process
  • an ability to write with clarity about the past
  • an ability to communicate in a group setting


Required Readings

Jonathan Phillips, The Crusades, 1095-1197 (New York, 2002).

Fulcher of Chartres, A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem, 1095-1127, ed. Harold S. Fink, trans. Frances Rita Ryan (1972).

R[aol], The Conquest of Lisbon, trans. C. W. David, with a new foreword and bibliography by J. Phillips (2001).

Usama ibn Munqidh, The Book of Contemplation: Islam and the Crusades, trans. Paul M. Cobb (2008).

Baha’ al-Din Ibn Shaddad, The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin, trans. D. S. Richards (2002).

Written Work and Tests

There will be two quizzes: the first is a geography quiz worth 5%; the second a quiz on the First Crusade and its aftermath worth 10%.  There will be three formal essays: the first, a three to four-page essay, is worth 20%; the second, a one page review, is worth 10%; the third and final paper, 7-9 pages, is worth 40%.   The remaining 15% is based on participation.  Participation includes contribution to discussions, preparedness, and completion of readings and occasional ungraded assignments.  Both quality and quantity are important.  The ungraded assignments for the most part take the form of answers to questions used to direct readings.  Students will be required to jot down a paragraph answering the question and be ready to use it in the next class’s discussion–only some of these will be collected.  The long paper is due on the day and time allotted for a final exam.  There is no separate final exam.

Grading Principles

In this class, an A (93–100) or A- (90–92) mean that the work done is of excellent quality.  B+ (88–89), B (83–87) and B- (80–82) mean that the work was well done, competent, even excellent in some ways, but that there is room for improvement.  C+ (78–79), C (73–77), and C- (70–72) signify that the work was satisactory in most respects, even good in some ways, but that there was much room for improvement.  D+ (68–69) and D (60–67) are passing grades, but mean that much more could be done in most if not all areas of the work, but that it was not missing in toto any key aspect of the assignment.  I assign grades based on a number of variables which, if they can be named (e.g., style, argument, research, etc.), cannot in reality be separated from the others.  Each variable affects the others. Deficient style will vitiate argument; poor research will undermine argument, and so on.  Students earning less than a C by mid semester will receive a notice of unsatisfactory performance.  As with all courses at UMW, this seminar will abide by the honor code.

Students with Disabilities

The Office of Disability Services has been designated by the University of Mary Washington as the primary office to guide, counsel, and assist students with disabilities.  If you receive services through that office and require accommodations for this class, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible to discuss your approved accommodations.  I will hold any information you share with me in strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise.

If you have not made contact with the Office of Disability Services and have reasonable accommodation needs, I will be happy to help you contact them.  The office will require appropriate documentation of a disability.


January 17  Introduction to the Early Crusades

January 19  Discussion: The significance of the past

Task: Find recent controversies about the crusades (use Crusades-Encyclopedia on the right menu or a search engine).

Read: J. H. Hexter, “The Historian and His Day.”

January 24  Origins of the Crusades

Reading: the Peace of God; Gergory VII calls for a Crusade (1074).

January 26  Clermont: what happened?

Reading: Reading: Phillips, chapter 1 and chapter 2 (pp. 14–19 only),  documents 1 and 2 (Phillips, pp. 161–65), and Fulcher of Chartres, book 1, chapters 1–4 (pp. 61–69); Christian Narrative Sources of the First Crusad2; ; Gesta Francorum account of Clermont; Spurius letter of Emperor Alexis.

Question: What happened at Clermont?

February 2  The crusade against the Jews.

Reading:  Phillips, chap. 2, pp. 19-21; The Chronicle of Rabbi Eliezer bar Nathan; Albert of Aachen; Ekkehard of Aura.

February 7  Slouching toward Byzantium

Reading:  Phillips, Document 3; Fulcher, book 1, chapters 5-12; Peter Tudebode; Ana Comnena.

Question: What motivated the crusaders?

February 9  Antioch to Jerusalem

Reading: Phillips, chap. 2, pp. 21-26; Fulcher, book 1, chaptes 13-36; Ibn al-Athir, Years 491-2;  Raymond of AguilersGesta Francorum; Letter from the Jewish leaders in Ascalon.

Geography Quiz (click here for names to memorize)

February 14  Muslim Reaction and Response.

Reading: Phillips, chap. 3, pp. 27-31, and doc. 5; Al-Sulami, Kitab al-Jihad.

Question: What are the principal divisions and issues which mark the Muslim world?

February 16  Military Strategy in the Kingdom of Jerusalem

Reading: Phillips, chap. 3; Fulcher, books 2-3;  Ibn al-Athir, selections from A.H. 498, 502, 504, and 512 (A.D. 1104-1119).

Question: What drove the military strategy of the early kings Baldwin I and Baldwin II?

First Essay Due February 18 (posted to website by 11:59pm).

February 21  Test on the First Crusade.

February 23  Templars and Hospitalers.

Reading:  Phillips, chaps. 4 and 5, and docs. 7 and 8; Rule of the Templars; Bernard of Clairvaux, In Praise of the New Knighthood (longer selection than in Phillips).

February 28  The Second Crusade

Reading: Phillips, chap. 6; Seige of Lisbon, introduction.

March 1  The Lisbon Diversion.

Reading: Seige of Lisbon, pp. 52-125.

March 6, 8  Spring Break

March 13  The Taking of Lisbon

Reading: Seige of Lisbon, pp. 125-85.

March 15  Settling Down.

Reading: Phillips, chaps. 7-10; Taxes from the Assizes of Jerusalem; Travels of Saewulf (from Thomas Wright, trans., Early Travels in Palestine (1848), pp. 31-50 [page opens on p. 32, so go back one page]).

March 20  Modern Interpretations

Reading: Articles (TBA)

March 22  Getting Along: Usama Ibn Munqidh and Life in Syria

Reading:  Phillips, chap. 11; Usama, “Introduction” and The Book of Contemplation, part I.

March 27  Usama Ibn  Munqidh

Reading: Usama, The Book of Contemplation, part II; lost fragments from the Book (pp. 241-45).

Question: What does Muslim chivalry look like, based on the descriptions by Usama of contact, behavior, and battles?

March 29 Usama Ibn Munqidh

Reading: Usama, The Book of Contemplation, parts III and IV, and fragments from Book of the Staff, Kernels of Refinement.

April 3  Film: Kingdom of Heaven, part 1.

Task: Seminar will watch the reasonably recent Hollywood production Kingdom of Heaven (2005) and discuss the following question (in preparation for writing the Review):

What are the modern American elements to Kingdom of Heaven?  You have read major works by participants in the crusades and by near contemporaries and observers.  You know something of the course of the history of the kingdom of Jerusalem in the mid to late 12th century.  You have from the textbook some discussion of Baldwin IV, Saladin, and the Battle of Hattin.  You also know about the Templars.  Most of all, you should have a sense of the difference between the possible and the probable—what could possibly have happened versus what likely happened.  Historical novelists play with the former; historians work with the latter.

Watch the film and make a list of key elements that reflect inappropriate or unsupportable elements (whether events, characters, characterizations, actions).  Why did the director put these in?

Those of you who want a point of comparison will want to check out some or all of the classic Egyptian film Saladin (1963), which is available on Youtube.

April 5  Film: Kingdom of Heaven, part 2.

April 10  Discusssion: Modern repositioning of the Crusades.

April 12  Ibn Shaddad

Reading:  Phillips, chap. 12; Rare and Excellent History of Saladin, introduction and preface.

Movie Review due in class, posted to the website.

April 17  Ibn Shaddad

Reading: :  Rare and Excellent, part one.

April 19  Ibn Shaddad

Reading: :  Rare and Excellent, part two.

April 24  Richard I, Saladin, and Robin Hood.

Reading: TBA

April 26  Crusades and History, Past and Present.

Reading: Phillips, chap. 13.

Extra Credit: Attend one panel at the History Department’s Spring Symposium (schedule to be posted near the end of the term), write a sentence on what you got out of each speaker’s presentation, and email that to me.

Final Exam period: Thursday, May 3, 8:30-11 am.  The final paper is due by the end of this time, and should be posted on the course website.

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