Category Archives: Full Dinner

The Black Death with Professor Abigail Agresta

We’re back here at the History Cafe!  (along with major epidemics…maybe I should not make to big a deal of that…)  But considering the current pandemic and sitting in my house on lock-down along with much of the rest of the world, it seemed like a good time to revisit one of the touchstone’s of epidemic disease: The Black Death.  The Black Death, as we discuss, is one of those medieval topics where our understanding has actually changed radically in just the last couple of decades.  For a decade or so, there was significant debate about the exact nature of the disease, its origin, and why it killed so many people in the fourteenth and subsequent centuries.  Recent archaeological and genetic evidence have answered some persistent questions while raising a host of others.  We now know more than ever about the genetic history of the bacteria and how the Black Death in Europe relates to outbreaks of plague all over the world.  However, we also have many new questions about the persistence of the plague in Europe, and the connections between genetic shifts and the virality and lethality of the disease.

My guest on the podcast is professor Abigail Agresta from George Washington University in DC.  I talked to her for a previous podcast (which is a pretty good one, if I do say so) on the anti-Jewish riots in Valencia and Spain more broadly in 1391.  So if you have not heard that podcast, go back and listen to it HERE.  We go through both the classic story of the Black Death, as well as what new research has to say about this fascinating history.

Oh, and since I’m trying to streamline this podcasting process, I will be posting the podcasts with food images as usual, but I won’t put in a nice description since it tended to just slow down posting…and really this podcast is about history, not food.  Hopefully no one is too disappointed by this.  E-mail me, though, if you want to know what the pictures are of (when it’s not obvious).


Bibliography or links mentioned in the episode:

In Our Time podcast (From a few years ago)

And Cambridge put together a whole list of podcasts on epidemics, plague and otherwise!  Lots of options.

And some reading:

Ellen Arnold’s guest blog post at “How did we get in this mess?”

And she tweets on many medieval things @EFArnold

The classic narrative:

Benedictow, Ole J.  The Black Death 1346-1353: The Complete History. Boydell and Brewer, 2004.

Attacks on the classic narrative:

Herlihy, David.  The Black Death and the Transformation of the WestHarvard University Press, 1997.

Cohen, Samuel Kline.  The Black Death Transformed: Disease and Culture in Early Renaissance Europe. Oxford University Press, 2002.

The new understanding (and there is much more of this…e-mail me if you want):

Green, Monica, editor.  Pandemic Disease in the Medieval World: Rethinking the Black Death; The Medieval Globe vol. 1 (2014).

This has several articles by authors we mention in addition to Monica Green’s own introduction which lays out many of the new directions in plague research.


Wilhelm Furtwangler: Romanticism, Pure Music, and the Nazis

Well, it’s been a year since my last podcast and this podcast took a couple of months to edit. Bad turn around time all around.  But I’m still here and still more or less at this!  I will hopefully be doing more in the future, but might have to have another few months hiatus before I really get back to producing them.  In the meantime, this is a lengthy podcast with a wide variety of thoughts about both past and present and nationalism and white supremacy.  But it’s all inflected through the life of a German conductor named Wilhelm Furtwangler.  Continue reading Wilhelm Furtwangler: Romanticism, Pure Music, and the Nazis


The Hedgehog and the Fox with Clare Gillis

lemon_tart_-_star5112This month (bi-month?  Something like that – I wish these happened
a little more frequently) I’m again talking with my friend, medievalist and journalist Clare Gillis.  In part in response to the topic popping up in the news from time to time, I figured we should have a conversation about Isaiah Berlin’s essay on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace titled The Hedgehog and the Fox.   Continue reading The Hedgehog and the Fox with Clare Gillis


Islam, Pirenne, and Historiography with Clare Gillis

Welcome to 2016!Orange-Duck

I’ve been a bit delinquent with podcasts for a couple of months, but here, finally, is a new one.  This one was inspired a few months back by the youtube comment stream (crazy but true!) on a John Oliver Last Week Tonight clip: the “How is this still a thing?” on Columbus Day.  Don’t ask how I ended up reading that far into the comment stream…in general I’m a fan of John Oliver, but not an avid reader of youtube comments. Continue reading Islam, Pirenne, and Historiography with Clare Gillis


History Cafe visits the Met with Lauren Mancia – Archeological Reconstruction

Here is the last installment of the History Cafe visits the Smoked Salmon Platter with BagelsMetropolitan museum in New York.  If you didn’t hear the first two, they are all separate topics.  The first two cover the twelfth century, and late-medieval mysticism.  This time, we’re talking about archeological reconstructions.  Most of the archeological sites and many of the ruins we look at are in part repaired or reconstructed and it isn’t always obvious how.  Continue reading History Cafe visits the Met with Lauren Mancia — Archeological Reconstruction


Anti-Jewish Riots in Valencia, Spain, 1391 with Abigail Agresta

As a follow-up to last month’s shot about violence, this month I haveBamyas an interview with Abigail Agresta talking about a series of anti-Jewish riots that hit numerous cities in Spain in 1391, starting with Seville and spreading across most of Spain.  We focused mostly on the interpretations of one of the worst riots in the city of Valencia.  On the way, we talk quite a bit about how scholars think about anti-Jewish violence in the medieval period, what relationship that violence has to modern anti-semitism, and the changing character of Christianity’s relationship to Judaism. Continue reading Anti-Jewish Riots in Valencia, Spain, 1391 with Abigail Agresta


History Cafe visits the Met with Lauren Mancia – Medieval Mysticism

This is part two of our History Cafe Visits the Met series and Lauren Mancia is back to talk about how objects and images interacted with Medieval ideas of mystical experience.  This is the podcast where we talk about the little bed (see the image below).  We were down in the main museum, not in the cloisters, and we looked at a seemingly random set of images connected by their very close connection to the spiritual practices of mysticism.

Continue reading History Cafe visits the Met with Lauren Mancia — Medieval Mysticism


History Cafe visits the Met with Lauren Mancia – The Cloisters Gothic Chapel

Lauren Mancia is back and for a whole series we are calling The History Cafe Visits the Met!  We recorded several podcasts live at the Met Museum looking at specific items in the collections ranging from the Gothic Chapel to the Temple of Dendur to a little tiny doll’s bed used for mystical contemplation (this will be coming up soon!)  For today, we have our discussion of several objects in the Gothic Chapel at the Cloisters Museum.

Continue reading History Cafe visits the Met with Lauren Mancia — The Cloisters Gothic Chapel


Constance Maynard and Women’s Education with Jessica Stout

This month on the History Cafe we’re back to an interview, again with a recent alum of mine, Jessica Stout.  Most of Jessica’s work focused on nineteenth century British literature (some of which gets mentioned in the podcast.)  For her historical work, Jessica looked at the debate that began in the late eighteenth century but continued through all of the nineteenth concerning whether or not women should receive a university education.  Various thinkers felt that educated women would be alternately better educators for their children or worse parents if they spent too much time learning Latin; create more stable families if they could earn a living or be unwilling to marry if they could support themselves. The debate drew comments from major voices of the time, including John Stuart Mill (who was a strong supporter of quite radical levels of equal rights).  The debate carried on in editorials, newpapers, and public speeches over many years. Continue reading Constance Maynard and Women’s Education with Jessica Stout


Early Modern English Brewing with Elliot Samuel-Lamm

For December, I have a discussion with one of my recent graduates.  At Marlboro, every students does fairly extensive research and prepares a collection of materials in a senior portfolio referred to as a “Plan.”  Elliot Samuel-Lamb did his work on brewing and beer and together we researched the character, flavor, and brewing practices of England in the Early Modern period (we looked some at the late medieval period, also, but focused on the 17th-19th centuries.) In the podcast, we talk about some of our findings that the English continued to like beer sweet long after continental brewers (particularly in Germany and the Netherlands) had introduced hops and begun to switch to a more bitter beverage.  English brewers all the way to the 19th century continue to sometimes caution against the inclusion of too much hops specifically so as to not overly bitter their brew.  Elliot continues to brew beer and be interested in all things brewing, making beer from locally grown ingredients and reading about beer’s quirky history. Continue reading Early Modern English Brewing with Elliot Samuel-Lamm