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The Marco Institute‘s twelfth annual Riggsby Lecture on Medieval Mediterranean History and Culture will feature Paul M. Cobb, a noted historian of Middle Eastern culture, on Thursday, November 5.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Lindsay Young Auditorium of John Hodges Library. Cobb’s lecture, titled “Charlemagne’s Muslim Elephant: Kinship, Nature, and Monotheism in the Early Middle Ages,” will explore the meanings, apparent and hidden, of elephants in Muslim culture and the significance that attached to one famous but highly unusual gift.

“Professor Paul Cobb is not only one of the finest contemporary historians of the Middle East, but has terrifically insightful things to say about medieval Europe’s complex relationship with the world of Islam,” said Professor Thomas E. Burman, Riggsby Director of Marco Institute.

Around the year 800, Harun al-Rashid, the leader of the Muslim world, sent an elephant as a gift to Charlemagne, the leader of the Latin Christian world, in Aachen, Germany. In reflecting on this event, which has long puzzled historians, Cobb’s lecture will shed light on these two well-known leaders and provide guidance on how we should study the Middle Ages today.

Cobb is a historian of the medieval Islamic world and is recognized as an authority on the history of the Crusades in their Islamic context. His areas of interest include Islamic relations with the West, historiography, and the history of travel and exploration.

A recipient of National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright, and Guggenheim Fellowships, Cobb is the author of numerous books and studies, most recently The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades.


Vera Pantanizopoulos-Broux (865-974-1859,

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,