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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 4.4 out of 5 by 47.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Major Update As Prof. Armstrong says, this 7-lecture course is an update to her 2016 course on the Black Death, to reflect the large amount of new knowledge on the subject, some of which overturns what we thought we knew; and she delivers on this promise. She also expands on the topic by recognizing sociological parallels between the Black Death and the current COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the more critical reviewers have overlooked that this is a history course, not a science course; and drawing sociological inferences is entirely appropriate. I saw nothing in her content that I would characterize as "political." Dr. Armstrong is a dynamic and engaging lecturer, and well versed in her topic. I think The Great Courses needs to pay more attention to the sets it uses. The backdrop to this course included moving abstract images on a pair of flat screen displays behind the lecturer. These added nothing to the understanding of the course content, but served as a visual distraction from the presentation. The set for the previous course was both more entertaining (I loved the rats) and less distracting.
Date published: 2022-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course Good insights from latest research on the Black Death
Date published: 2022-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Black Death: New Lessons from Recent Research A very interesting update to the previous course on the Black Death. What I would like to see in the future is a revised update to tie both courses together as a single course with whatever information future research reveals. Very well done, Dorsey.
Date published: 2022-07-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting to see the process of transmission from rats with fleas, to other rats and the conditions under which it spread,to humans globally over the centuries. Many parallels to our Covid outbreak
Date published: 2022-06-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from over worked . Wordy apologies . Repeats . Reflections on her Correcting her original 'Black Death' . She did give corrections about her first 'Black Death' series but she was disappointed that most people just ignored it. . What she had to say could have been in JUST ONE 'LESSON.' .
Date published: 2022-06-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Fascinating But Flawed A must-have supplement to the original course, fascinating when the lecturer sticks to the Black Death. Unfortunately the lecturer conflates plague (mortality 85%) with COVID (mortality 2%). Although the whole thrust of the course is that historians should have shown more professional scepticism, that what was written down was not necessarily true, unaudited "trust-me" government and media figures on COVID are taken at face value. The comment that new material which was being published was not included because taping was "too far along" is quite thought-provoking- what other Great Courses should have be updated? The lecturer describes a government edict in Strasburg in 1347 ordering the execution of all Jews. But then the lecturer selects a photo of a current demonstration AGAINST government edicts to criticise. Many different government responses to COVID are mentioned, but no reporting of which made any difference. The lecturer tells of her experience that "when I told interviewers how wrong I was about the Siege of Caffa....nobody reported it" but fails to apply professional scepticism to their current reports on COVID. The question "what, as a professional historian, have I learned from this and should appy to the history of COVID" is not answered. The lecturer does an excellent job of attributing sources for Black Death, but not for COVID. I no longer bother with 5-star reviews because so many are fawning and uncritical of blatant deficiencies. I give this 3 stars out of 4 overall, the Black Death material is excellent. The new material includes both genetic information and analysis that has believable common-sense logic
Date published: 2022-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I feel the professor did an excellent job showing the past misconceptions of the plague and its aftermath, and how recent lines of research have cleared many of those up. I was especially impressed with her ability to relate the plague of the Middle Ages with our own current pandemic. Interesting, informative, and educational.
Date published: 2022-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ms Armstrong is an effective presenter. The material is interesting and useful relative to issues arising from the recent Covid pandemic.
Date published: 2022-06-23
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Overview

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?

About

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.

INSTITUTION

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
854
The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague
854
Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write about Anything
854
Years That Changed History: 1215
854
Great Minds of the Medieval World
854
The Black Death: New Lessons from Recent Research
854
The Black Death: New Lessons from Recent Research

Trailer

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