Disaster and Disaster-response in a Medieval Context: the First Crusade

J.O. Ward


Disaster studies and disaster management are topics nowadays considered worthy of academic and institutional attention on a wide scale.1 The conditions of modern society, in fact, far from banishing causes of and concern with disaster, have multiplied both the scale of potential and actual disasters, and diversified the sources from which they may spring. Whether invoked by war, malicious and inhumane ideologies, environmental adversity and neglect or the negligent action of multi-national companies, the loss of life and trauma associated with modern disasters amply justifies the attention of academics, administrators and planners. The historian, too, can play a role: what sort of disasters have occurred in previous times and how have contemporaries classified, explained and recovered from them? The present paper, which looks at the medieval experience of disaster in a particular context, suggests that former ages were, paradoxically, better able to cope with the concept of disaster than we are today, because they were able to anticipate and contextualize the disaster in ways that have lost popularity in modern times. An exploration of this theme, it is hoped, might offer some longer context within which to understand modern disaster traumas, and, at the same time, to throw some light on the role that Biblical texts and ideas played in the contemporary delineation and explanation of the disasters that provoked the medieval crusading movement, and thereby, on the vexed problem of the genesis of the movement itself.

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