A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, July 13, 2015

Patricia Crone (1945-2015): Innovative Historian of Early Islam

Patricia Crone (Princeton)
Patricia Crone, Professor Emerita of Islamic History at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, died on Saturday, July 11, after a lengthy battle with cancer. In a distinguished if at times controversial career, she challenged us to reshape and rethink many of our assumptions about early Islamic history. (Sometimes, in my personal view, more successfully than others, but her legacy is undeniable.)

This excerpt from her Institute for Advanced Study listing summarizes her career a bit:

School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Ph.D. 1974; Warburg Institute, University of London, Senior Research Fellow 1974–77; University of Oxford, University Lecturer and Fellow of Jesus College 1977–90; University of Cambridge, Faculty of Oriental Studies and Fellow of Conville and Caius College 1990–94, University Reader 1994–97; Institute for Advanced Study, Andrew W. Mellon Professor, 1997–2014, Professor Emerita, 2014–; American Philosophical Society, Member; British Academy, Corresponding Fellow; Makers of the Muslim World, Founder and Editor 2002–; Aarhus University, Faculty of Theology, Honorary Professor 2007–; University of Copenhagen, Honorary Doctorate 2009; University of Cambridge, Honorary Member of Gonville and Caius College 2013–; Leiden University, Honorary Doctorate 2013; The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Honorary Doctorate 2014; British-Kuwait Friendship Prize 2005; Giorgio Levi Della Vida Medal for Excellence in Islamic Studies 2013; Middle East Studies Association, Albert Hourani Book Award 2013; Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award 2013; Central Eurasian Studies Society Book Award 2013; American Historical Society, James Henry Breasted Prize 2013,
But her books were her real legacy. In 1977 she and her colleague Michael Cook began their careers by provocatively tossing a fox into the henhouse of early Islamic history with their work Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World, It did nothing less than question the entire early Islamic narrative of the Prophet and the origins of Islam. I'm also an early Islamic historian (though not a Professor Emeritus of the Institute for Advanced Study), but I had a lot of problems with Hagarism. I still do.

But no scholar should be judged solely on her first book, now nearly 40 years ago. Later contributions (and the list is far from complete) include Slaves on Horses: the Evolution of the Islamic Polity (1980); with the late Martin Hinds, God's Caliph: Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam and the Rise of Islam (1986); Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam (1987), and other works including the broadly  based Pre-Industrial Societies: Anatomy of the Pre-Modern World (2003). Her last major work, the 2012 The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran: Rural Revolt and Local Zoroastrianism is particularly relevant to some recent developments in the region.

See here for a memoir, published prior to her death, by a friend and colleague.

Though often controversial, no historian of the first centuries of Islam cannot engage with the body of Crone's work. RIP.


Brian Ulrich said...

See also this: http://chaserobinson.net/crone-and-the-end-of-orientalism/

She didn't always get the right answers, but she asked the right questions.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Amen. I wish I'd said that.