One of the frustrations in trying to discuss Islam (with non-Muslims and Muslims alike) is the heavy reliance on recollection, opinion, stereotype, and media-filtered factoids by most commentators rather than a detailed study of history.
Common misconceptions like "jihad has always meant war" and "Islam conquered by the sword" and "non-Muslims under Muslim rule are third-class citizens at best" are easily refutable by simple historical facts. But the patience required to try and research those facts, and insert them appropriately in the course of a debate, is beyond the capability of even those muslims who are heavily studied in the history of the world (and I am not one of them, I am a mere dabbler).
It's probably too much to expect the average questioner to do due diligence on their own - but even if the average non Muslim (seeking a dialouge with a Muslim) were to try and research their question beforehand, it is difficult to know where to even begin.
Therefore, as a common framework, let me propose the following historical reference: Bartleby's Encyclopedia of World History. Specifically, the section on the Postclassical period of world history, 500 - 1500 AD. Their copy of the World Factbook is also a useful source of data for discussions aimed at modern times. Bartleby's reputation is in my opinion beyond reproach - their goal of providing open and free access to great works of literature and reference is a noble one. I have added these links to my sidebar for convenience, and there's a search box for the entire Bartleby Reference section floating further down the sidebar.
I also highly recommend the PBS series, Islam: Empire of Faith - a grand sweeping overview of the history of the rise of Islam and it's impact upon the rest of the world. I think that this series does a lot to illustrate the weaknesses in the Clashist view of Islam.
While no historical text or documentary can hope for ultimate accuracy, or satisfy all factions, I am willing to rely on Bartleby as an agreed starting point. I hope that visitors to this blog continue to challenge me as they have done, and I ask that they also use this reference so that we can indeed be "on the same page".