Medieval studies, which dominated university history faculties only half a century ago, have fallen from favour. The problems of the Middle Ages are thought to lack contemporary relevance. Their study requires skills that have become rare, such as a reasonable command of Latin and other languages. Medievalists have to step outside the conventions of their own world to confront societies whose outlook often seems arcane and rebarbative, a form of curiosity which is admired in anthropologists but less so in historians. ‘Medieval’ has become a term of abuse, generally applied to some peculiarly modern vice by people who know next to nothing about the Middle Ages.
Crusade studies are the most striking exception to these gloomy generalisations. Holy war may be as objectionable to modern minds as anything that happened in the ten centuries loosely lumped together as the ‘Middle Ages’. But it seems a more pertinent barbarism at a time when conditions in the Middle