During my second term at Oxford (Hilary), I had an immensely enjoyable class on the Medieval Crusades 1099-1291. I had signed up for this further subject as an optional extracurricular, knowing that my performance in the course (positive or negative) would in no way count toward my Columbia degree or my focus of study at Columbia: Architectural Theory and History.
In reflection, the most important insight I gained from this course (and Oxford more generally) is not knowledge of specific facts, events, or dates. Frankly, I will probably forget these specifics and details twenty years from now – the timeline of the Fourth Crusade or the fate of the Fifth, the phases and patrons of English architecture, the causes of the Black Death, etc. etc. But, the aspect of this course that will remain with me is an appreciation for primary source historical documents and the nuance these documents can shed on our understanding of history. And the aspect of Oxford that will remain with me is a deeper respect for scholarship, and the work required to produce scholarship.
I entered this course with the maybe naive hope that didactic and exact parallels could be drawn between past and present. Now, after the course (and the final essay I submitted), I’m not so certain that such parallels exist; I’ve begun to doubt myself more and to question the degree to which my interpretation of the Crusades and of history is somehow coloured by contemporary events, the modern understanding of Christianity, and the contemporary reinterpretation of the idea of a Crusade for political rhetoric or propaganda – both among members of the Muslim State or in American culture. In short, I think my dedicated and passionate Oxford professors have helped me earn a deeper appreciation for nuance and uncertainty.
Not knowing isn’t exactly a comfortable place to be in. But, maybe, it is also a sign of intellectual maturity and intellectual growth… for which I have my Oxford experience to thank.