21 March 2017, Army and Navy Club, St James’s Square, London.
In the library of the Army and Navy Club overlooking the beautiful St James’s Square in the heart of London, our Masterclassers embarked on a journey into the past unlike any other.
The Masterclass was held by Dr Peter Frankopan, Director of the Centre for Byzantine Research at the University of Oxford and author of the bestselling books The Silk Roads and The First Crusade.
The first half of the evening [after wine and a chat to get to know everyone of course] was spent discussing the meaning of the word ‘Crusade’ in both present day and in the past with a wide variety of contributions from the floor. Every single piece of audio and video released by Bin laden in the aftermath of 9/11 mentioned the Crusades. Why was this? How has the symbolism of the red crusader cross – which was first associated with the Republic of Genoa – become so entrenched in modern life? Why do western politicians and the press still regularly turn to the word crusade? The session ended with a detailed introduction to the economic, political and religious situation in both Europe and the East in the 1090s which provided a fertile ground for the seeding of the Crusades.
After a short break for food [and more wine] Dr Sam Willis briefly interviewed Peter Frankopan before taking questions from the floor. This provided a fascinating moment of interaction where everyone could direct the seminar towards their own interests in the middle of the event. How many Crusades were there? 5, 7? 42? Why were there so many? Why have historians traditionally studied the Crusades without considering the full variety of sources available? What gaps still exist in our understanding of the Crusades? Is there a wealth of untapped material, and if so where does it lie? How does archaeology help our understanding of the Crusades? How can our modern understanding of PTSD be applied to what we know about the Crusades?
Peter then picked up from where he had left off at the break and took us on a roaring journey through five Crusades. Everyone left challenged, piqued, fascinated and inspired, all due to the brilliance of Peter Frankopan and the extraordinary events that modern historians are still trying to understand.