Monthly Archives: March 2012


Reed Trivia

Did you know that by the 8th century, Buddhism was naturalized in Japan and began to blend with native beliefs? Previously Buddhism was used as a form of control by the ruling elite as it defined their identity within courtly culture.

communities of violence pic

A quick note on “Communities of Violence”

In Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages, David Nirenberg uses compelling literary devices and an expansive—and varied—array of primary sources to illustrate both psychological and historical narratives for the Crown of Aragon. His underlying thesis was twofold, presented in two parts. The first component of Nirenberg’s central argument criticized the teleological portrayal of violence that encompasses medieval historiography pertaining to minorities (11) and focuses on “cataclysmic” instances of violence (7). From Nirenberg’s perspective, this extremely broad approach excluded viable historical information from a local context (12), and instead—as Mark D. Meyerson noted “tended to string together acts of violence, like so many beads in a gruesome necklace, in order to fashion a teleological narrative of persecution leading to the events of 1492…” (Medieval Academy of America 464). Nirenberg found a more complicated relationship between violence and the minority/majority that involved the politics surrounding medieval religious identity and the intentions behind those political endeavors (12).

Initially, after reading Chapter One, I wished Nirenberg had included some of his source limitations in the actual body of the text instead of the footnotes. For example, when discussing population ratios between Muslims and Christians in various kingdoms, he never mentions the issues with the population figures themselves. His footnotes are extremely comprehensive, however, and there, most of his source-related problems are meticulously examined (25). As the book progressed, I understood the detail with which Nirenberg actually investigated his sources (including Christian royal correspondence, Jewish chronicles, and numerous municipal archival documents). His research was so extensive, as he tracked the crusader shepherds through Aragon, he could discern gaps in documentation down to the week (72).

I appreciated the juxtaposition of both the cataclysmic events of the “Shepherd’s Crusade” and the more systemic violence found in Chapters Five and Six. Nirenberg’s comparative approach makes more sense then the paranoid-driven prophecy of Baer (90). In fact, Nirenberg mocks the author of History of the Jews in Christian Spain as he quips, “history, including that of the massacre at Montclus, was prophecy” (91). As evidenced in archival documents, the Montclus event occurred because the “pastorellos” believed they were crusading against Granada (an endeavor contemplated by the Crown for political reasons) (75).

Nirenberg’s fantastic literary techniques made the complex vocabulary and theoretical concepts of Communities of Violence more digestible. For example, the author uses metaphors to paint a relatable picture for the audience. When transitioning from part one of his book he employs this technique, “we must lower our gaze from thunderbolts of mass violence to the sparks generated by friction between groups…” (127). In another instance he compared medieval cohabitation between the three religious groups as “walking a knife-edge” (18). I found Nirenberg’s evocative images extremely helpful, and a welcome respite from his complicated verbiage.