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Empires of Islam in Renaissance Historical Thought

Empires of Islam in Renaissance Historical Thought

Margaret Meserve

ISBN 9780674026568

Publication date: 02/28/2008

Renaissance humanists believed that the origins of peoples could reveal crucial facts about their modern political character. Margaret Meserve explores what happened when European historians turned to study the political history of a faith other than their own.

Meserve investigates the methods and illuminates the motives of scholars negotiating shifting boundaries—between scholarly research and political propaganda, between a commitment to critical historical inquiry and the pressure of centuries of classical and Christian prejudice, between the academic ideals of humanism and the everyday demands of political patronage. Drawing on political oratory, diplomatic correspondence, crusade propaganda, and historical treatises, Meserve shows how research into the origins of Islamic empires sprang from—and contributed to—contemporary debates over the threat of Islamic expansion in the Mediterranean. Humanist histories of the Turks were sharply polemical, portraying the Ottomans as a rogue power. But writings on other Muslim polities include some of the first positive appraisals of Muslim statecraft in the European tradition.

This groundbreaking book offers new insights into Renaissance humanist scholarship and the longstanding European debates over the relationship between Christianity and Islam.


  • This erudite and elegant book explores the efforts of Renaissance humanists to understand the Ottoman Turks and the world they came from. Using rich evidence, much of it not studied before, Meserve teaches us a great deal about the transmission, use, and misuse of historical and political information in modern Europe's first public sphere.

    —Anthony Grafton, Princeton University


  • 2008, Winner of the Helen and Howard R. Marraro Prize
  • 2009, Winner of the Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Book Prize


  • Margaret Meserve is Associate Professor of History and Associate Dean for Humanities and Faculty Affairs at the University of Notre Dame.

Book Details

  • 370 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press