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 West. Harvard 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.