Alexandra Garnhart-Bushakra, a PhD candidate in history, received the Marco Institute’s 2019-2020 Jimmy and Dee Haslam Dissertation Fellowship. This support has allowed her to complete her dissertation, “If Life Were Verse: Classical Masculinity and Memories of Violence in First Crusade Narratives, 1095-1200 C.E.”
Her project explores how Northern French authors relied on ancient exemplars—including Homer’s Achilles, Virgil’s Aeneas, and the Roman love poems by Ovid—to redefine Frankish masculinity after the First Crusade. Within 20 years of the campaign, chroniclers began to re-imagine the narrative of events and added graphic descriptions of sexual trauma, death, grief, and vengeance to their histories. Whenever monks read, copied, and shared these highly edited accounts, they experienced the horrors and pleasures of crusading without leaving their monasteries.
In her dissertation, Alex argues that churchmen calibrated their words to thrill their Frankish audiences, relying on gendered imagery and emotions to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem intelligible to others. Early crusade historians mastered evocative language and embraced, if not emulated, Roman poetry in order to guide their Christian readers away from Islam and towards salvation. Therefore, the theme of violence against bodies in the Holy Land transformed into a metaphor for the spiritual health of Latin Christendom.