The First Crusade

Module titleThe First Crusade
Module codeHIH1505
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Alun Williams (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module is based on the sources and texts relating to the First Crusade (1096-99), prompted by the preaching of Pope Urban II at Clermont-Ferrand. Western pilgrims travelled across Europe, equipped with a fiery faith and the weapons of war, to the Levant in order to wrest Christianity’s holy sites from Muslim occupation. You will examine how modern and medieval historians viewed the nature, purpose and motivation of the crusade and how evidence is used to construct arguments regarding the conflict of interests and ideologies. You will also consider the impact of the conflict on Christian, Muslim and Jewish writers. 

Module aims - intentions of the module

The primary aim of the module is to try to understand why lay people from western Europe responded in such unprecedented numbers to the Pope’s call to arms. More broadly the module will help you to develop your critical faculties as historians, to be sceptical of the documentary evidence on which historical arguments are based and to appraise thoroughly the existing scholarship.  A particular challenge within this course is, by using contemporary sources, to understand how and why events took place and also to understand the ideologies, motivations and perceptions of the protagonists. Our quest will take us well beyond the historical narrative. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Understand and assess the main developments in the ways in which the First Crusade was perceived by contemporary writers and how these views have been mediated by secondary historians
  • 2. Work critically with a range of written and visual sources relating to the topic

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Identify the problems of using historical sources, e.g. utility, limitations, etc., and compare the validity of different types of sources
  • 4. Present work orally, respond to questions orally, and think quickly of questions to ask other students

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Conduct independent study and group work, including the presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning
  • 6. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment
  • 7. Work with others in a team and to interact effectively with the tutor and the wider group
  • 8. Write to a very tight word-length

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • the call to arms and the subsequent response to the Pope’s preaching
  • the People’s Crusade
  • the persecution of the Jews by Crusaders in the Rhine Valley and its impact on Jewish communities
  • Byzantine perceptions of the Crusade
  • Muslim reactions to the First Crusade
  • dissent amongst crusaders
  • the nature and character of the society that emerged and the legacy of the First Crusade on pilgrimage and subsequent crusading movements

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching22 hour lecture: Introduction to module
Scheduled learning and teaching2010 x 2 hour seminars. At a meeting of the whole class generally a different group of 3-4 students will give a presentation to the whole class, followed by class discussion and working through the sources for that week carefully. Additional sources may be issued in the class and the lecturer will also use the time to set up issues for the following week.
Guided independent study128Students prepare for the session through reading and research; writing a weekly source essay and preparing one group presentation in the course of the term.


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation (3-4 students)10 minutes1-7Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Source commentary 133850 words1-3, 5-6, 8Mark and written comments
Source commentary 233850 words1-3, 5-6, 8Mark and written comments
Source commentary 334850 words1-3, 5-6, 8Mark and written comments


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Source commentarySource commentary1-3, 5-6, 8Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

  • Angold, Michael, The Byzantine Empire, 1025-1204: A Political History (Harlow, 1997)
  • Bull, Marcus, Knightly Piety and the Lay Response to the First Crusade: The Limousin and Gascony, c.970-c.1130 (Oxford, 1993)   
  • Constable, G., ‘The Historiography of the Crusades’, in A.E. Laiou and R.P. Mottahedeh (eds.), The Crusades from the Perspective of the Byzantium and Muslim World (Washington DC, 2001), pp. 1-22
  • Hillenbrand, C., The Crusades: The Islamic Perspective (Edinburgh, 1997)
  • Housley, Norman, Contesting the Crusades (Oxford, 2007)
  • Madden, Thomas F. (ed.), The Crusades: The Essential Readings (Oxford, 2002)
  • Mayer, Hans Eberhard, trans. J. Gillingham, The Crusades (Oxford, 1965)
  • Phillips, Jonathan (ed.), The First Crusade: Origins and Impact (Manchester, 1997)
  • Richard, Jean, The Crusades, c. 1071-1291 (Cambridge, 1999)
  • Riley-Smith, Jonathan (ed.), The Oxford History of the Crusades (Oxford, 1005)   
  • Riley-Smith, Jonathan, What Were the Crusades? (Basingstoke, 2002)
  • Throop, Susanna A., Crusading as an Act of Vengeance 1095-2016 (Farnham and Burlington VT, 2011

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Crusade, salvation, vengeance, Byzantium, Islam, idealism, Urban II

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date