Crusade, Google Books, and NGrams

pershings-crusaders2If you were at all interested this week, the conference “Engaging the Crusades” was held at the Senate House in London. Muzaffar Bhatti did a great job live-tweeting it.

It’s interesting to compare the frequency of the word “crusade” across various languages, at least as indicated in Google Books’ Ngram Viewer. It’s hardly a complete picture, and it doesn’t tell us what to think, but there are some spikes in the occurrence of the word that strike me as suggestive of something.

This is just my own dabbling in the topic–the folks at the conference have all researched and published on these topics (I’d particularly recommend Adam Knobler’s “Holy Wars, Empires, and the Portability of the Past”). And while I don’t share Matt Gabriele’s distain for the 19th century scholarship, the fact remains that the 1820s to the 1850s (and 1840s to 1870s, if you’re in Germany) really did lay the framework for how the crusades are read, studied, and consumed by the larger public. And while most of that framework has been updated or invalidated in the past 75 years, for all that the 19th-century vision of the Middle Ages seems to exert a great influence on the public’s idea of what the crusades were. After all, the “look” of Kingdom of Heaven was based on the “Salle de Croisades” of Versailles, opened by King Louis-Philippe in 1843.

What seems to escape many people’s notice, however, is the way the crusades captured the interest, if not the imagination, of people in the 18th century as well (a similar interest in “chivalry” emerges if you search databases of 18th-century writing).

In English, Google’s data for “crusade” from 1600 to 2000 suggests three “peak” points.

What I find especially striking is the spike after 1750–not an era, from what I could tell, that was covered in the recent conference.  At first glance, it seems to come from an increase in historical essays that in some measure or other address the crusades. Voltaire’s Annals of the Empire, for example, were translated into English around this time. Very generously (for Voltaire), the 1148-9 crusade to Portugal is described as “the only reasonable crusade of those times.” A new military dictionary in 1760 devotes considerable space to the English crusade to Flanders in 1383.

And here is the same chronology with “croisade”:

A similar spike occurs in the 1750s, as in England, but whereas the frequency of the word increases in England after the 1850s, in France it seems to peak in the 1840s and slowly taper off. This may have something to do with a wave of French scholarship in the 1820s, 1830s and 40s–such as Reinaud’s study of the Sixth Crusade, Fauriel’s 1837 edition of William of Tudela‘s account of the Albigensian Crusade, Prat’s 1840 study of Peter the Hermit and the First Crusade, or an 1817 letter on the so-called Children’s Crusade. In a slightly different vein is the “patriotic discourse” of 1791 on the “crusade against the French.” Vigorously written…

And again, this time with “kreuzzug”:

Why the spike around 1622, and again around 1930, the latter peaking in 1943?  The 1930s-40s I know about, given my early studies on Nazi Germany. The years the Nazis were in power actually saw a lot of medieval scholarship produced in Germany, war or no war. Naturally, a fair bit of that scholarship was inflected by the regime’s presence, a fact many in German academia weren’t/aren’t too keen on discussing (though one should take Cantor’s infamous Inventing the Middle Ages with a big grain of salt).

Crusade volumes produced in Nazi Germany include Berza’s 1942 Der Kreuzzug gegen die Türken–ein europäischen Problem, Eysser’s 1938 Papst Pius II. und der Kreuzzug gegen die Türken and Berndorffs 1938 Kreuzzug der Kinder. There are also many smaller non-medieval pieces such as Ackermann’s 1939 Ein moderner Kreuzzugand the (I think rather notorious–I’ve run across it before) 1942 Europas Kreuzzug gegen den Bolschewismus.

Again, basic figures like these depend on Google’s cataloging reach, and don’t tell us anything about how to interpret the numbers.  But they should reinforce the importance of conferences and projects such as Engaging the Crusades. 

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