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The Black Death: New Lessons from Recent Research

Revisit the past to examine what the medieval experience of the Black Death can teach us about our own world and the science of disease.
The Black Death: New Lessons from Recent Research is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 63.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Return of the Rats Prof. Dorsey Armstrong is one of my favorite TGC presenters, and I thoroughly enjoyed her earlier course on the Black Death. But believe it or not, in the few intervening years, new scholarship has turned previous assumptions about the plague upside-down. Prof. Armstrong bravely confesses the earlier false ideas and amends them with new research, and also relates the plague to our recent experience with COVID-19. I recommend taking the earlier course first, despite its flaws, and then following it with this shorter refresher course. You can find my earlier review posted with that course. I also recommend looking for an online article called “Purdue prof attracts cult following as expert on 'The Black Death'.”
Date published: 2022-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting Update Lots of updated information on the Black Death research. Some parallels with the current Covid pandemic.
Date published: 2022-10-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Black Death: New Lessons from Recent Research This follow-up format to a previous course was an excellent format. I loved the fact that Dr. Armstrong corrected misinformation from her first course. I always enjoy her courses, whether microbiological or literature. As a college instructor in microbiology myself, I have used some of Dr. Armstong in my lecture on Yersinia. Thank you.
Date published: 2022-10-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A good update, but I could do without the preachin I was excited to watch this course because of the promise that Prof. Armstrong would correct errors in the previous course, provide us with updates on new scientific research and give a comparison to the Covid pandemic. She did, and I especially appreciate the professionalism of someone who freely admits she unintentionally provided incorrect information in her earlier lecture. As another reviewer wrote, however, Prof. Armstrong becomes increasingly preachy in the last two lectures. I agree. Drawing parallels is one thing, but advancing a political agenda is another. Buy the course, but don't waste your time with the last lecture.
Date published: 2022-10-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A complete waste of time The presenter spent most of their time on their political soap box. I wanted a history lesson, not current events and the bashing of American society.
Date published: 2022-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another brilliant series! I listened to the previous series (from 2015) on the Black Death, and then immediately to this updated series. Dr. Armstrong deserves much praise for her multiple mea culpas (which weren't technically her personal errors to begin with) in highlighting the differences between the information available for the first series and the revelations made since. She remains engaging, knowledgeable, and entirely personable. Her scholarly work, as well as the community of cross-disciplinary professionals with whom she collaborates, ensures a broad basis for the truth as we have it today. I appreciate the point that history is always evolving, just like science. For the minuscule number of reviewers who complain about facts versus opinions, or who attribute any of the material as political, I recommend they seek a variety of reputable global reporting sources (BBC and Al Jazeera are good places to start) in order to escape their bias-confirming echo chambers. This is the fourth lecture series I've listened to with Dr. Armstrong, and I will continue to gobble up everything she has to share in her inimitable style! She is hubris-free, funny, and unstintingly brilliant—an absolute treasure! Thank you, Professor! <3 PS: I LOVE words, languages, and etymological journeys down rabbit holes which wind through history, linking the past with today. Thank you for giving me such an adventure with *topoi* in the original series! Thank you for keeping the standards high, and never ever dumbing it down. You're a Rock Star!
Date published: 2022-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really Interesting I've read numerous library books about the Black Death. This contains the latest and most fascinating information. Very well presented by Dr. Armstrong, and with tie-ins to our current situation with Covid.
Date published: 2022-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Watch Before, "The Black Death: The World’s...." These 7 lectures are a, "Time of COVID," addendum to a Medieval Historian's view of how disease and population depletion may have contributed to social progress detailed in the original 24 lectures from 2015. Also there is added and updated Archeologic/DNA information from plague times and lines. Disease is so interesting, our ancestors worked through their epidemics and big time die offs over many years, we think we can get instant gratification today and are shocked with 2% die off. Professor Armstong mentioned that her Dad was in the Navy during the Viet Nam conflict and was required to have Plague vaccine. I was an Orthopedic Surgeon at the 12th EVAC HOSPITAL in Chu Chi, RVN the first 1/2 of 1969. I have a couple photos of the Conex Box isolation ward our Internists set up to receive an alleged Plague patient. I don't recall if he was thought to be Pneumonic or not but the Corpsmen stretcher bearers were not masked, but fortunately it turned out to be not Plague. Our Internists were always in need of something to land on, war has evolved into into more death by trauma than disease in the past century.
Date published: 2022-08-15
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In The Black Death: New Lessons from Recent Research, celebrated medievalist Dorsey Armstrong corrects explanations of the famous medieval pandemic that are now known to be inaccurate and offers a more robust description of plague biology. 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?


Dorsey Armstrong

Every turning point discussed in these lectures shifted the flow of the river of history, bringing us ever closer to the modern world.


Purdue University

Dorsey Armstrong is a Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University, where she is also the head of the Department of English. She received her PhD in Medieval Literature from Duke University. She is the executive editor of the academic journal Arthuriana, which publishes cutting-edge research on the legend of King Arthur, from its medieval origins to its modern enactments. She is a recipient of the Charles B. Murphy Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award, Purdue’s top undergraduate teaching honor. Her other Great Courses include The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague and The Medieval World.

By This Professor

King Arthur: History and Legend
The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague
Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write about Anything
Years That Changed History: 1215
Great Minds of the Medieval World
The Black Death: New Lessons from Recent Research
La Peste Negra: La Plaga Más Devastadora del Mundo
The Black Death: New Lessons from Recent Research


Reassessing the Black Death

01: Reassessing the Black Death

As we deal with our own 21st-century pandemic, the curious among us have looked back to the 14th-century pandemic known as the Black Death. You’ll be surprised to discover how many of our assumptions and conclusions about that time have been upended as new methods of scientific inquiry have been applied to old questions.

21 min
A Deeper Dive into Rat and Flea Behavior

02: A Deeper Dive into Rat and Flea Behavior

A deeper understanding of rat and flea biology and behavior along with the 21st-century ability to examine ancient DNA have allowed us to correct long-held assumptions about the origin of the three known plague pandemics. Follow the fascinating scientific trail that now allows us to state with certainty where the plague did—and did not—originate.

26 min
Human-to-Human Plague Transmission

03: Human-to-Human Plague Transmission

Medieval peoples suffered from the unpredictability of the pandemic as it exploded in some seasons and locations, died down, and then showed up again years later. Explore what we have recently learned about transmission of the four types of plague—bubonic, pneumonic, septicemic, and digestive—and how that affected the timing and intensity of outbreaks.

17 min
Plague, Grain, and the Mongols

04: Plague, Grain, and the Mongols

We now know the grain trade was responsible for the movement of black rats and their fleas around the medieval world. Learn how a serious increase in European urbanization and well-established trade networks set the continent up for a devastating fall once the Mongols pushed west into the area.

31 min
The Big Bang of the Black Death

05: The Big Bang of the Black Death

Scientists have discovered that what gave the Black Death its stunning lethality and transmissibility was a mutation in a bacterial strain about 100 years before the plague showed up in Europe. Explore the genetics of Yersinia pestis and learn how scientists have confirmed that plague came into the European world only one time.

26 min
The Fate of the Plague’s Survivors

06: The Fate of the Plague’s Survivors

We now understand better than ever that the experience of a pandemic—both then and now—is not a singular event or occurrence. It is an ongoing trauma, and we have no way to know when it will be over. Examine the inherent societal flaws that pandemics reveal and consider whether any of our social, economic, medical, and political safety nets held up the way we had hoped.

22 min
The Old World Falls Away

07: The Old World Falls Away

For those who survived the upheaval of this medieval pandemic, European life—and even the understanding of the very purpose of government—had forever changed. Study the many ways in which society responded to this massive depopulation and its associated problems by looking at the social networks that were developed to better combat plague and provide relief and support.

24 min