Library Resources: The Crusades—An Annotated Bibliography for Teachers

Dr. Alan Lupack, Curator of the Robbins Library,Medieval Woodcut: Library
University of Rochester, presents

Library Resources: The Crusades—An Annotated Bibliography for Teachers
Guest Columnist:
Leila K. Norako

The crusades are a difficult subject, in no small part because the definition and scope of the word “crusade” are often over-simplified. Emphasis, in pop culture as well as higher education, is often placed on the crusades fought in the Levant, the territory in the Middle East that borders the Mediterranean. Such emphasis is understandable, considering that the initial campaigns now referred to as crusades centered on the conquest, protection, or reconquest of Jerusalem and its surrounding areas; these are the campaigns most frequently made the subject of chronicle, epic, romance, novel, and film. Nevertheless, the term “crusade” encompasses a wide geographic and cultural spectrum; Frankish, English, German, Scandinavian and Spanish Christians are included as well as Turkish, Kurdish, Egyptian and Arabic Muslims in addition to pagan Germanic tribes and heretical Christian sects. These were not wars waged simply between Christianity and Islam. The definition and description of any crusade (even the First) is far more complex than that.

Compounding the difficulty of examining the crusades is the fact that, to borrow the words of Andrew Wheatcroft, “not a single Crusader participated on the … Crusade”; that is to say the word was created — long after the medieval campaigns were waged — in an attempt to group a series of different papally sanctioned campaigns under an encompassing term.  In addition, the crusades were campaigns that occurred over the course of several centuries (from the late 11th to roughly the late 15th) and attempts to speak of an “era of the crusades” runs the risk of overplaying their significance in medieval culture, large though it was.

But if these vexations seem to render the topic of the crusades impenetrable, many historical texts present the complex matter of the crusades in an approachable, contextualized manner.  There are numerous popularist works that rely on grand assumptions about these campaigns (not to mention medieval culture) and, while they are valuable examples of how perceptions of the crusades have developed over time, they should be read or viewed with caution as critical works.  This bibliography provides teachers and students with references to and descriptions of some of the best critical and literary works on the crusades and is meant to aid in the exploration and research of these fascinating campaigns.

I. Books for Student Projects or General Research

Elementary School

Macdonald, Fiona. You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Crusader: A War You’d Rather Not Fight. Created by David Salariya. Illustrated by Mark Bergin. New York: Franklin Watts, 2005.

This lively book is perhaps one of the better elementary-level books on the crusades. Covering topics such as preparations for a crusade, the significance of Jerusalem to medieval Christians, and the perils of travel and warfare during the Middle Ages, this book will certainly captivate young readers while providing them with a general understanding of the First Crusade.

Geyer, Flora. Saladin: The Muslim Warrior Who Defended His People. Washington, D. C.: National Geographic Society: 2006.

This text presents young readers with a depiction of Saladin set apart from the romanticized and westernized treatment he so frequently receives in European and American literature. Filled with detailed but age-appropriate description, the book chronicles the life of Saladin, highlighting his military victories.

Christian, J. E. The Children’s Crusade. Florissant, MO: Liberty Bell Press, 1999.

The book is a thoroughly fictional account of a young boy, Vincent, who joins the Children’s Crusade in an attempt to find his father who may have died on a previous Crusade. He encounters and befriends a Saracen princess along the way. By no means a historical account of the Children’s Crusade or of crusading in general, this book would be a way of introducing the concept of religious tolerance to children – though in doing so it may provide them with several confusing and inaccurate ideas about the Children’s Crusade and various other aspects of medieval culture.

Parsons, Jane, ed. Crusades: The Struggle for the Holy Lands. London: DK Publications, 2001.

This vividly illustrated book focuses on the crusades fought in the Levant. It attempts to explain to young readers the context of the First Crusade (as well as others), the nature of medieval pilgrimage, life in the Levant for Muslims and Christians during these campaigns, as well as the legacy of the crusades. Though general in scope, it provides an accessible and reasonably detailed account of these campaigns suitable for younger readers.


Middle School

Doherty, Katherin M., and Craig A. Doherty. King Richard the Lionhearted and the Crusades in World History (In World History). Enslow Publishers, 2002.

Filling a gap between elementary works on Richard I and more academic publications, this text (aimed at a middle and high school audience) conveys both the power and the brutality of Richard I, as well as his numerous accomplishments despite his short time as King of England. Generalizing in some areas, the text would easily be a useful source for middle- to early high school students. More advanced high school students should certainly search through more detailed texts.

Laird, Elizabeth. Crusade. London: Pan MacMillan, 2007.

This novel centers on the lives of two young boys, one a Christian and the other a Muslim, alive during the time of the Third Crusade. Salim, a merchant’s son in Acre, is sent off as an apprentice to the Jewish physician Musa, a doctor who is eventually ordered to serve under Saladin himself. Adam, an English serf, has decided to journey with the crusader armies to Jerusalem in an attempt to help his unconfessed and dead mother find her way to heaven. The two boys eventually encounter each other and, throughout the course of the novel, discover that they have much more in common than they might have ever expected. Like the Pagan Chronicles (see below), this is a highly fictionalized account of the Third Crusade, the events of which are more of a backdrop for stories of the two protagonists.  The novel uses this setting as a means of encouraging readers to question their initial perceptions of the “other” and to complicate their views on warfare.

Stanley, Diane. Saladin: Noble Prince of Islam. Illustrated by Diane Stanley.  New York: Harper-Collins, 2002.

This text reveals as much about the fantasy of Saladin in Western culture as it does about the historical figure. Few of the anecdotes are technically inaccurate, and she does refrain from portraying Saladin as a model of perfection; however, her pointed omission of many of Saladin’s more questionable actions runs the risk of providing young readers with a distorted image of this complex and important historical figure.

Weil, Sylvie. My Guardian Angel.  New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2004.

This story, unlike many other fictional works on the crusades, focuses on the plight of the Jewish people in the Rhine Valley as the crusaders repeatedly pillaged their communities on the First Crusade. Elvena, the protagonist, is the 12-year-old granddaughter of the rabbi Rashi. Both characters, as the reader discovers in the epilogue, are based on eponymous historical figures.


High School Texts

Madden, Thomas, ed. Crusades: The Illustrated History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004.

This marvelously illustrated book is an excellent introduction to scholarly works as each chapter is written by a different historian. Though useful for college instructors and students as well, the format and quantity of detailed information in this history book is perhaps the most accessible and most easily digestible for early high school readers.  While it does not seek to be completely comprehensive, it does provide a solid foundation.

Pagan’s Crusade Trilogy.

Jinks, Catherine. Pagan’s Crusade: Book One of the Pagan Chronicles. Cambridge, MA:Candlewick, 2004.

—–. Pagan in Exile: Book Two of the Pagan Chronicles. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2005.

—–. Pagan’s Vows: Book Three of the Pagan Chronicles. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2005.

—–. Pagan’s Scribe: Book Four of the Pagan Chronicles. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2006.

This lively and well-received series centers on the adventures of a young boy, Pagan, who is a squire to a Templar Knight. The first book involves his life and adventures in Jerusalem prior to Saladin’s taking of the city. The second installment involves his life in Languedoc with his lord Roland. The third installment centers around Roland and Pagan’s entry into a monastery. The fourth book involves the 1209 war against the Cathars (also known as the Albigensian Crusade). This series would make for an excellent book report project; however, prior reading on the historical period involved is required.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan, ed. Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Written by a group of crusades historians, this book covers substantial ground, be­ginning with Pope Urban II’s call for the First Crusade and extending to perceptions and roman­ticizations of the crusades in the 20th century. This collaboration emphasizes not only the historical details of the crusades but spends a substantial time (more than Madden’s illustrated edition) on their effects upon the arts and technology.

II. Major Scholarly Works

An array of historical work on the crusades has been produced in the past fifty years, no doubt inspired by contemporary issues and concerns by Western Europe and America about the Middle East.  There are many excellent books dealing with either the crusades in general or specific campaigns; however, the few that are selected here are excellent texts for instructors who wish to prepare units on the crusades. They will also be of use to advanced high-school students in need of texts for research projects or who are simply interested in learning more about these religious wars. 

Runciman, Steven. History of the Crusades. London: Penguin Books, 1965, 1991.

Runciman’s scholarship has wielded a tremendous amount of influence on 20th– and 21st–century perspectives on the crusades. His most famous dictum on the crusades being that “the Crusades were nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God,” he laments the narrow-mindedness and blind faith of the crusaders. His beautifully written text is vital to understanding many of the popular assumptions about the crusades, but frequently emotive prose (evident most prominently in his conclusion) rather antiquates his work.

Riley-Smith. Jonathan, ed. Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

See High-School Level Texts.

Hallam, Elizabeth, ed. Chronicles of the Crusades: Eye-Witness Accounts of the Wars Between Christianity and Islam. New York: Welcome Rain, 2000.

This book is comprised almost exclusively of translated primary sources from the 11th to 16th centuries, with an emphasis on “the often conflicting points of view of the western crusaders … the Byzantines … and … the crusaders’ Muslim opponents” (7). It is an excellent resource for advanced high-school student papers, or for instructors seeking out primary source material.

Lock, Peter. The Routledge Companion to the Crusades.  Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2006.

An exhaustive guide to crusades history, the first section of the book consists of a comprehensive timeline (133 pages) that begins with the first Christian pilgrim’s journey to the Holy Land (c. 160) and ends with the 1798 departure of the Hospitallers, last of the crusading military orders, from Malta. The second section of the book is a narrative outline of the crusades, broken down into accessible units. Third is a section comprised of succinct biographies about individuals relevant to crusades history.  Fourth and Fifth are sections devoted to historiography. The final section of the book, entitled “Crusades, Crusading and The Crusader States,” contains several highly useful units with topics including the following: “What Was a Crusade?”, “The Idea of a Crusade,” “Crusading Warfare,” and “When Did the Crusades End?”

Madden, Thomas. The New Concise History of the Crusades. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2005.

Engagingly written, Madden’s book deftly summarizes the complex matter of crusades history in a detailed but accessible style.  He begins with a chapter entitled “The Call” provides several chapters on various crusades (some familiar and others understudied), and concludes with an examination of various perceptions of the crusades in the modern era. His text is an excellent source to use when augmenting the information found in high school textbooks. Advanced high-school students would find this text particularly useful for independent projects and papers.

—–, ed. Crusades: The Illustrated History.

See High School Level Texts.

Tyerman, Christopher. God’s War: A New History of the Crusades. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006.

This book is arguably the most comprehensive study of the crusades since Steven Runciman’s History. While Madden’s history seeks to provide readers with a detailed but compacted overview of crusades history, Tyerman provides the reader with exhaustive but excellently written and researched accounts of the crusades and their effects.  His is a book benefiting tremendously from the fifty years of crusades research since Runciman’s work. While I would not recommend this book if one is looking for a swift overview of the crusades, it is sure to delight readers seeking a comprehensive examination of these campaigns and the cultures involved.

III. Websites

It will come as no surprise that there are far more problematic and inaccurate websites on the crusades than there are reliable ones. Three of the best have been listed here, all of which provide substantial information and many links to primary source material from the time in which the crusades occurred.

Literature of the Crusades: Online Sources in English Translation. Ed. Barbara Stevenson.

This site provides links to numerous medieval works that include significant references to the crusades. Divided into accessible segments, the site offers brief descriptions of the relevant references to facilitate the research process.

Internet Medieval Sourcebook: Selected Sources from the Crusades.

Containing an exhaustive list of primary and secondary sources available online, this site is an excellent starting point for online research on the topic of the crusades. It also makes accessible a wide array of primary sources often found only in academic libraries.

The Crusades: A Virtual Course Through Boise State University.

This general, cogent overview of the Levantine crusades is an excellent refresher of the basic events and motivations of each. The site also contains information on the major states at the time of these crusades, the rise of military orders, as well as pertinent maps and timelines.

Norako, Leila K. Writing the Crusade: A Guide to Literary Representations of the Crusades. Camelot Project. Online Publication Forthcoming.

Affiliated with The Rossell Hope Robbins Library’s Camelot Project, this forthcoming online bibliography will give researchers insight into the wide-ranging influence of the Crusades on both Western and Eastern literature, from the Middle Ages to the present. Emphasis will be placed on medieval literary genres, and the first installment (“Crusade Imagery in The Medieval Romance and Epic”) will be online by Spring 2008. Additional installments centering on other medieval literary genres will follow and will include descriptions of related chronicles and travel literature as well as shorter songs, prayers, and poems. In time, Writing the Crusade will include sections on Early Modern, 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st century literature.

IV. Film and TV

While documentaries and films on the crusades abound, a few in particular are worth mentioning in detail. No film or hour-long documentary can hope to cover the ground that Tyerman and Madden do in their works – there simply is not enough time. As a result many descriptions and enactments are greatly generalized and, as a result, frequently border on the inaccurate. The audience for these types of media is a decidedly “popular” one, which makes it even more unfortunate that they are so frequently riddled with falsities, elisions, and poor research. As with the novels mentioned in other sections of this bibliography, the films and documentaries mentioned here should be approached with a keen and critical eye. They can be useful elements of a unit on the crusades; however, I would suggest that a good quantity of reading on the historical events take place before any of them is viewed.

The Crusades. Dir. Cecil B. Demille. Paramount, 1935.

A frequently comic epic that toys mercilessly with historical detail and legend. Loosely based on the Third Crusade (and just about every other crusade as well), one might argue that the only accurate aspects of the entire production are the names. The film was, it seems, meant to convey the importance of spirituality rather than to present the viewer with an “authentic” depiction of the Third Crusade itself.  Nevertheless, the film is highly enjoyable in its capricious treatment of historical events, and viewers familiar with Richard the Lionheart will, no doubt, see remnants of his long-standing legend present in the bellicose, audacious king on the screen.

The Crusades: Crescent and the Cross. Dir. Stuart Elliot and Mark Lewis. Lion Television, 2005.

A History Channel special, this documentary would most likely be useful as a supplement to readings on the First through Third Crusades. By the nature of its medium, it does not contain the depth of research or the scholarship that the aforementioned academic works provide. It would, however, be a useful tool with which one could augment various parts of a unit on the crusades.

Holy Warriors: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. Dir. Richard Bedser. Atlantic Productions, 2005.

This documentary, like the one directly above, should probably only be sought out as a supplement to readings on Richard and Saladin. Woefully reductive in its approach, it leaves a considerable amount unsaid and unaccounted for as it attempts to focus on Richard and Saladin during the Third Crusade. Students who have read Madden, Tyerman, or Jonathan Riley-Smith’s work will undoubtedly be able to pick out the numerous omissions or elisions in the documentary and, perhaps for that reason, it might be useful to show as a means of demonstrating the limitations of many documentaries.

Kingdom of Heaven. Dir. Ridley Scott. 20th Century Fox, 2005.

This film generated a tremendous amount of controversy, with hotly contradictory reviews. Some argued that the film was anti-Islamic, others anti-Christian, still others argued that the film promoted, above all else, the importance of diplomacy and dialogue. Regardless, the film is at heart a romance, but unlike its medieval kin, this story sports a glaringly post-modern ideology that, were the film not so serious in tone, might not have been as distracting. It is an excellent example of 21st century medievalism and the frequent attempts to loosely describe and depict crusades history for the sake of addressing the current conflict in the Middle East.



Leila K. Norako is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Rochester, Department of English. She is a contributor to the Camelot Project, and is working on an affiliated website dedicated to the topic of crusades imagery in literature. She recently created an exhibit for The Rossell Hope Robbins Library entitled “The Crusades in Western Cultural Imagination,” and taught a composition course focused on the presence of the crusades in pop culture.


Original Citation: The Once and Future Classroom , Volume V, Issue 2, Fall 2007

NOTE: Links have been corrected and/or deleted.  The original “look and feel”  of the journal has been preserved as much as possible, but the original logos have also been removed.  No editing to the actual texts has been done since their original publication.

TEAMS: Teaching Association for Medieval Studies