Metaphorical Memories of the Medieval Crusades after 9/11

“Metaphorical Memories of the Medieval Crusades after 9/11”

In times of crisis, comparative historical thinking provides a way for in-ividuals and groups to construct narratives capable of placing the past in a relational dialogue with the present and future. This manner of temporal accounting assists the demands of the day, which often include an urgency at odds with slower, more distant modes of historical inquiry. Specific events from the past—even the distant past—often serve as anchors to quell a sense of temporal and mnemonic disorientation, for both individuals and the broader public. After 9/11, the history of the Crusades became one of the key histor- ical and mnemonic benchmarks that individuals, groups, and institutions found useful and mobilized to frame their understanding of the attacks.

The academic historians discussed in this essay questioned the popular notion that 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror could, or should, be perceived as a “new Crusade”—a cultural memory being remembered as if the Crusades and their medieval animosity lingered, ready to be relived be- tween the “East” and the “West.” Yet, as this essay shows, the social and communicative functions of contemporary metaphors and metaphorical language have the capacity to breathe new life into seemingly “dead” histories. Just as memory scholars have conceptualized cultural memories as “dead” or “living” memories, theorists of metaphor also examine living versus dead, flattened, or inanimate metaphors. By combining these perspectives, “metaphorical memories” contrast “literal histories” by demanding their relevance to contemporary sociopolitical realities. In terms of transmediality, contemporary metaphorical memories often take advantage of the capacity for narratives to travel media landscapes, seeking out particular media affordances like audience agency, interaction, participant interpretation, and remediation.

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