Historicizing the Crusades: Strategies of Historiographical Writing and Functions of the Past in the Late Middle Ages

Stefan Schröder

The crusades between 1095 and 1291 are one of the most significant episodes in the history of both the Christian and the Muslim Middle Ages. As a result of academic research as well as of historical fiction writing, movies and TV-series, the cultural memory of the crusades is not only deep-seated even in the 21st century, but actually forms our perspective on life and culture of the Middle Ages. Moreover, the crusades have been and are still used to legitimate own political interests.
But how were the crusades to the East perceived during the Later Middle Ages, especially after the end of the crusader states? In contrast to Early Modern and Modern Times, images of the crusades in political, historical and religious discourses of late medieval times are less known. Although this period is of central importance for the history of Europe with its emerging nation states, for the development of wide-ranging reading cultures beyond monasteries and courts, for constituting collective identities and for patterns of perception of ‘Otherness’ that are based on the experiences during crusader times, the role of the crusades and the cultural memory of the time is not yet fully explored.
By analysing historiographical writings of the 14th and 15th century, my interdisciplinary project seeks to fill the research gap on the remembrance of the crusades. It focuses on Latin and vernacular sources such as political tractates, chronicles, humanist writings and travel reports. Following the assumption that the formation of a cultural memory is a creative process in which the meaning of past events has to be mediated every time anew, it will be investigated to what extent and for what purposes images of the crusades were adapted and how they changed over time. The comparative analysis examines the interrelations between the commemorative culture of the crusades and their particular re-configurations, functions and uses in different European countries and proposes new insights on historiographical writing as a medium of the construction of memory in the Late Middle Ages.