The world has been fundamentally changed by the shock and devastation of a 21st century pandemic. COVID-19 has claimed six million lives; we process a daily deluge of often conflicting and/or overwhelming information; and humanity has no way of knowing when this collective trauma will finally end. Will our lives ever be the same again? It seems not.
Now, try to imagine the plague that devastated Europe in the Middle Ages and beyond: more than 25 million dead. Almost 400 years of outbreaks caused by a bacterium that would not be identified until the 19th century. The mortality rate was close to 85%, with as much as 70% of the population wiped out in some locations. Superstition was pervasive, and medical practices were frequently ineffective and harmful. What caused this tragedy, and what could have been done about it? For years, we thought we knew … but we often had it wrong.
In The Black Death: New Lessons from Recent Research, celebrated medievalist Dorsey Armstrong shares the fascinating new story of this old pandemic—revealed by dedicated researchers working with 21st-century technologies and a knowledge of language and history that now provide input from all geographic areas of the medieval world. In seven engaging lectures, Professor Armstrong corrects explanations of the pandemic that are now known to be inaccurate and offers a more robust description of plague biology than has ever been known. COVID-19 isn’t likely to be humanity’s last experience with a zoonotic disease, so what can we learn now from these two pandemics that could help us in the future?