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2012 Master's Level Graduate Research Conference

Session I - Session II - Session III - Session IV

The Lived Experience of the Black Death

The historiography of the Black Death includes a debate as to the exact epidemiology of the pathogen that struck Europe in 1348. Various historians have chimed in as to what, exactly, may have been the root cause of the pestilence – with theories ranging from bubonic plague to anthrax or influenza. There is also a question as to whether this debate is even relevant to the study of the Black Death – whether a confirmed medical diagnosis can illuminate a new understanding of the pestilence, or if the epidemiological debate only serves to obfuscate the Black Death’s greater historical consequences. The relevance of the debate is in how people experienced the pestilence as physical beings. The lived experience of the body is an important, and often insufficiently explored, sector of historical inquiry. The presentation, treatment, and attitudes associated with a specific disease are effected by its biology. Understanding the epidemiology of that disease is therefore integral to understanding a culture’s reactions to its incidence. The recent works of Samuel Cohn, Jr. and other plague historians have questioned the epidemiology of the plague and why an exact diagnosis of the cause of plague is considered important to historians. An interdisciplinary approach is necessary to this analysis of the physical experience of the plague, utilizing evidence through recent archaeological findings as well as contemporary medical texts, anatomical illustrations, and images of plague in the medieval Mediterranean world.

Presenter: Megan Webb-Morgan (Brockport) --
Topic: History - Panel
Location: 217 Hartwell
Time: 9 am (Session I)