History Professor Stephen Bensch began the spring Faculty Lecture Series with his talk this Wednesday. Bensch, a specialist in Medieval Europe and the Near East and the coordinator of the College’s Medieval Studies program, delivered a detailed lecture entitled “Turning Away from the Crusades: Christians and Muslims in the Medieval Maghrib.”
Contrary to popular belief, argues Bensch, the Crusades do not stand out as a period of significant cultural exchange between Europeans and Middle Easterners, particularly when viewed in the context of centuries of contact. “The West was rising,” he said, “but it was a Muslim and a Christian West in tandem.” He focused on the role of the Maghrib–western North Africa–in the cultural exchanges of the 11th- and 12th-century Mediterranean world. This unconventional but sensible point of focus gave the audience a fresh perspective; as Bensch noted during the question-and-answer session, “North Africa has been very undervalued – when you think of this period, it’s not the first thing that comes to mind.”
The Faculty Lecture Series will continue on Wednesday, February 20th with a lecture by History Professor Pieter Judson. These lectures are free and open to the public.