The Black Death – The World’s Most Devastating Plague

Review From User :

I finished The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague right in the midst of the earliest days of COVID-19 (a.k.a. Coronavirus) -- back when it was isolated in Wuhan. As I write this, the virus is still going strong and getting much worse, having spread almost everywhere but wreaking its most havoc in China, Japan, Italy and Korea.

One might think that the timing of my read was rather unfortunate. Not me. I discovered an odd calm reading about the Great Mortality. Nothing COVID-19 has to offer -- at least not so far -- can touch the least of the Plague's effects (although the potential collapse of our globalized economy, were such a thing to come to pass, would rival the economic destruction wrought upon the medieval world).

Certainly the spirited and passionate lecturing of Dr. Dorsey Armstrong was part of my relief and enjoyment, but the knowledge she passed on was far more important to my calm than her humour (and she is a funny woman, sometimes in the darkest ways).

While this lecture is decidedly about the Black Death, it is, tangentially, one of the more fascinating surveys of the medieval period that I've read or listened to. It ranges far and wide, presenting tantalizing case studies of responses to plague from around the world; it jumps from the negative effects of the Great Mortality (my absolute favourite name for Plague) to its positive effects seamlessly; and it reveals that even those moments that seem the most trivial have something important to tell us about one of humanity's most cataclysmic moments.

And, hey ... as a species, we got through it, and in some ways we became better for it because it wasn't all just death and suffering, and Dr. Armstrong wants us, I think, to remember that sometimes even the death and suffering can lead us to important change, both in our societies and ourselves.


Category: History, Lecture

Many of us know the Black Death as a catastrophic event of the medieval world. But the Black Death was arguably the most significant event in Western history, profoundly affecting every aspect of human life, from the economic and social to the political, religious, and cultural.
Expand text… In its wake the plague left a world that was utterly changed, forever altering the traditional structure of European societies and forcing a rethinking of every single system of Western civilization: food production and trade, the church, political institutions, law, art, and more. In large measure, by the profundity of the changes it brought, the Black Death produced the modern world we live in today.

While the story of the Black Death is one of destruction and loss, its breathtaking scope and effects make it one of the most compelling and deeply intriguing episodes in human history. Understanding the remarkable unfolding of the plague and its aftermath provides a highly revealing window not only on the medieval world but also on the forces that brought about the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and modernity itself.

Speaking to the full magnitude of this world-changing historical moment, The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague, taught by celebrated medievalist Dorsey Armstrong of Purdue University, takes you on an unforgettable excursion into the time period of the plague, its full human repercussions, and its transformative effects on European civilization. In 24 richly absorbing lectures, you’ll follow the path of the epidemic in its complete trajectory across medieval Europe. Majestic in scope and remarkable in detail, this course goes to the heart of one of Western history’s most catalytic and galvanizing moments, the effects of which gave us the modern world.

*** Having read extensively on The Black Death, Professor Armstrong gives a great lecture series that touches upon (and referencing) much of what those other authors have said including Norman Cantor, John Kelly, John Hatcher, Phillip Ziegler, Christopher Dyer, Robert S. Gottfried, and Barbara Tuchman. While not necessarily substituting for all the other reading, she gives a thoughtful and passionate performance that is every bit as thorough (if generalized) if a one-stop listen is what is desired.


Lecture 00 - Introduction

Lecture 01 - Europe on the Brink of the Black Death

Lecture 02 - The Epidemiology of Plague

Lecture 03 - Did Plague Really Cause the Black Death

Lecture 04 - The Black Death's Ports of Entry

Lecture 05 - The First Wave Sweeps Across Europe

Lecture 06 - The Black Death in Florence

Lecture 07 - The Black Death in France

Lecture 18 - Artistic Responses to the Black Death

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