Teaching The Crusade of Richard I
I used the Crusade of Richard I to help my students understand how Christians and Muslims felt about each other and themselves as they competed for dominance in the Holy Land. My students learned that people who lived in the premodern world reacted to each other with many of the same emotions and attitudes we do today. The primary sources referenced in this module can be viewed in the Primary Sources folder below. Click on the images or text for more information about the source.
I taught this source as part of my college course entitled The World to 1500. The course is intended for freshmen and has two main goals. The first is to provide students with basic content knowledge. The second is to give them opportunities to practice the skills they will need in upper-level history courses. These include: reading a text closely, building a strong argument based on evidence, and presenting that argument both verbally and in writing.
I proceed chronologically, so I taught the Crusade of Richard I toward the latter part of the course when we were covering the 12th century. By this time, my students had practiced analyzing documents that they found easier to read than this one, and many were becoming proficient at using evidence to support their conclusions. They had been introduced to the Abrahamic religions, including Christianity and Islam, and had focused on West Asia as the geographic center of the world up until that time. They had studied the Silk Road and Indian Ocean trade as social systems that transcended linguistic and ethnic boundaries. They understood that Jerusalem was a city that people with different beliefs considered to be holy, and that it was located in a prosperous part of the world, and they had read about the Abbasid Empire and Feudal Europe in a standard world history textbook. With all this as background, I used the Crusade of Richard I to help my students understand how Christians and Muslims felt about each other and themselves as they competed for dominance in the Holy Land. My students learned that people who lived in the premodern world reacted to each other with many of the same emotions and attitudes we do today.
I paired the document with another handout that was a Muslim account of the same Crusade, and we spent two class periods on a comparative exercise. The first class period was devoted to figuring out what the author of the Crusade of Richard I and his audience valued and how these values helped them construct their own identity. During the second class period, we subjected the Muslim author and his audience to the same analysis and then compared the two.
As preparation for our discussions, my students wrote a one-paragraph response to my questions about the author, his audience, and what both author and audience valued. I grade assignments like this one on a three-point scale. To receive full credit, students must respond to the question demonstrating an understanding of the document in their own words. They must also cite specific evidence from the text to support their answer.
In class, I divided my students into groups of four or five and gave them 20 minutes to work together to reread the document and refine their answers. I let them self-select into groups, and gave them instructions to write one answer together using the work they had done individually. I asked them to state a thesis, to be as precise as possible, and not to waste words or include assertions they could not substantiate. For the remaining 30 minutes, we had a class discussion during which we answered the question together, writing key points and supporting evidence on the blackboard.
During the small group discussion, I circulated among the students, listening in on their conversations and asking questions to guide their work. By this time in the semester, they were comfortable with this process. Early in the semester, I chat a little as I circulate, getting to know students and putting them at ease. I try to break down the hierarchy that is inherent in the student-teacher relationship so that they will feel comfortable offering their own interpretations and not wait to hear mine.
As I guided small group discussions on the Crusade of Richard I, I had to ask students where in the text they found evidence to support their assertions. I also referred some students to the dictionary I had brought with me to class because there were words in the text some students did not know. I explained that Saladin was the name Europeans used for Salah al-Din and that amir and emir were the same word, transliterated differently. I also asked them what adjectives they would use to describe King Richard and what words the author used to describe the Turks. I encouraged them to jot down the basic story line so that they could refer back to it. I asked what type of king Europeans valued and what skills they valued in battle.
My students concluded that the author chose to portray Richard I as a pious, hard-working man who understood the symbolic value of his position (he had himself carried in on silken cushions). The author also presented Richard as kind, supportive of his troops, skilled in battle, honorable, and powerful. My students agreed that values the author of the text and his audience shared were piety, belief in Christ, wisdom, and mercy. They also understood that Europeans were afraid of the Turks and believed they were fierce warriors and that the Turks could be defeated only because they were fearful, superstitious pagans. Thus, my students concluded that the author of the Crusade of Richard I was taking a moral stand on behalf of the Europeans in opposition to the Muslims. They understood this morality to be based in Christian piety and to be an important facet of European identity at the time of the Crusades.
My students knew from reading their textbook, in the abstract, that European Christian Crusaders felt morally superior to Muslims. Learning this from the perspective of a single text helped my students to understand more concretely how Europeans constructed this moral superiority. Working as a group, they learned that each of them read the document a bit differently. While one might have emphasized Richard’s piety in the paragraph she had written at home, another would have been struck by his power. When they worked together, the European attitudes of superiority took on multiple dimensions. It is this level of engagement and connection with the people who lived in the premodern world that makes this type of exercise work well. I will continue to use this exercise without changing it. My students did not get everything they could have out of this document. However, they did the analysis themselves, which made it a more meaningful learning experience.
Peter Stearns, World History in Documents (New York and London: NYU Press, 1998), 142-5, 145-47, quoting T.A. Archer, The Crusade of Richard I, 92-95, 97-98, 99, 101-2, 103, 126-7.
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire