Sometimes the name you give to an historical event says a lot about where you stand in relation to that event.  Is it the Civil War, or the War of Northern Aggression?   The Sepoy Rebellion, the first Indian war of independence, or (my personal choice) the violence of 1857?

Other times, what you call an event can be the marker of a cultural blind spot. I certainly felt like I’d received a well-deserved smack up the side of the head when I recently picked up Amin Maalouf’s
The Crusades Through Arab Eyes and read on the very first page that medieval* Arab historians and chroniclers “spoke not of Crusades, but of Frankish wars or ‘the Frankish invasions’ “. Duh!

As I believe I’ve mentioned, I’ve been reading seriously about the Crusades for several years now. I am well aware that the term “crusade” derives from the red cross worn by warriors who had “taken the cross”. If pushed to choose a side, I’d back the cultured Muslims against the barbaric “Frankish invaders” any day. But I’m also a product of my time, my place, and my education. In my head, it’s the Crusades. Or at least it was until an expatriate Arab Christian from Lebanon pointed out the obvious. Thanks, Mr. Maalouf. I needed that.

What cultural blind spots have you found lately?

*Another culturally charged word.  Technically the Middle Ages refers to the period in European history between the Roman Empire and the Renaissance.

1 Comment

  1. History on Display: Genghis Khan on June 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    […] I want to make it clear right from the beginning that I think Genghis Khan and the Mongol hordes have gotten a bum rap in the annals of history. Most of our ideas about the ferocity of the Mongol invasion come from contemporary accounts of Genghis Khan’s admittedly ferocious campaign against the Turkish kingdom of Khwarizim: one of the rare cases where the losers wrote the history.* While there is no doubt that the Mongol invasions were bloody, violent, and cruel, it’s not clear to me that they were any more blood-thirsty than the Vikings**, the Romans ***, or the Crusaders**** […]

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