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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 72.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating This was a welcome update. Things always evolve, and it is nice to see evolve with them. This was captivating and educational. The instructor was interesting to listen to.
Date published: 2023-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Tie-In with COVID reactions Great job of discussing the reactions of much of our populace to the link of COVID to China. It was apparent the lecturer felt very strongly about this and did a wonderful job of refuting ... and condemning ... the efforts of many Americans to blame Asians for spreading COVID. It was particularly useful to point out that this was probably due in large part to latent bigotry that was brought to the surface by the pandemic. Good job Dorsey!
Date published: 2023-03-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from First 5 lectures were very informative.. but, the last 2 lectures included a lot of social commentary and political pontification.I couldn't believe my ears. She certainly has a right to her social/political opinion, but NOT in this venue. I like many folks these days I've had a belly full of politics! I've been buying Great Course products for over nearly 26 years and this one ranks near the bottom. You won't learn too many new lessons from this one.
Date published: 2023-03-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Good topic and professor until political bias came I saw the first Black Death series and loved it! But this one was different. Sadly the professors personal and Political bias came through the subject matter.
Date published: 2023-03-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Intresting new Info Interesting new perspective but to much unrelated personal opinions and bias. Information could be condensed in 3 lectures
Date published: 2023-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Addition of Information As soon as I saw the description of this course, I immediately ordered it since the first Black Death lecture was done so well done by Dr. Armstrong. I have begun to look at people giving the program rather than the topic itself, as delivery is critical to interest and further learning. She has an knowledgeable and interesting delivery that is well suited to a digital format. My late brother in law was a professor at Purdue and was very affirmative of her standing there.
Date published: 2022-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting to see the new info. Science is uncovering info that makes it necessary to update some theories.
Date published: 2022-12-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too Much Tangential Padding With some reluctance I purchased this course after reading reviews. Yes, it contains new information on the plague. Was it worth 7 lectures? In my opinion, no. Even though I enjoy the lecturers presentation, I would have liked being presented with only what new research has been uncovered on the waves of black death that swept through Europe/Asia. I had no need for the opinions and book review included in this course. It would be interesting to see the original course revised with the new discoveries and limited to just the black death. All else could be released as a different course under a new title skipping the "Black Death" reference, perhaps saving time for those looking for a particular topic. In my opinion this course should have been condensed (perhaps 3 lectures) to the original topic and offered at a discount to purchasers of the original course. I give this a very, very qualified recommendation only for the new information.
Date published: 2022-12-20
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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
La Peste Negra: La Plaga Más Devastadora del Mundo
The Black Death: New Lessons from Recent Research
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