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The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague

Taught by a celebrated medievalist, go on an unforgettable excursion into the time period of the plague, its full human repercussions, and its transformative effects on European civilization.
The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 368.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Presented beautifully, organized very well- professor very knowledgeable. The course is very pertinent to our current pandemic.
Date published: 2022-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Buy It Now! This has always been an interesting aspect of history for me. I'm so glad you guys finally made a feature course on the topic. The professor is funny and interesting.
Date published: 2021-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting and informative A very engaging and interesting overview of the Black Death. It has helped me appreciate and understand the effects of pandemics through history. A very interesting parallel to learn from during Covid. I am a history geek and not a scholar and on that basis I found this lectures series the right balance and tone to make it easier to engage with and remember things.
Date published: 2021-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great as a parallel and primer for COVID The presentation is outstanding, it is as if this is a one-on-one conversation. The depth of the material is beyond what you would expect too. She clearly loves her work and you can feel her passion.
Date published: 2021-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous teacher Dorsey Armstrong is such an engaging teacher. I will try to take all of her courses.
Date published: 2021-11-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Teaches us much about the past -- and present! Great course. I was especially aware of the many, many parallels to what is happening to us now, in the midst of the COVID pandemic. Lack of employees, rising wages and shifting power to employees, conspiracy theories (you'd think we'd be better off now, but no, people still come up with crazy ideas!), containment strategies (e.g., quarantining), governing styles, the responses of those with power and those without power, the shifts in society, impact of the Church and the impact on the Church, etc., etc. So it was fascinating to compare yesterday and today. I do wish we had learned a bit more from our past so we didn't have to repeat the mistakes over and over -- but I'm glad I had a chance to learn from this professor. She is interesting, clear, good presentation, well organized. I encourage you to ask her to do a CODA on COVID.
Date published: 2021-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging, compelling and thorough. First course taken and very glad that I did. I'm very stratified with material, pack, clarity.
Date published: 2021-10-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid Overview A good, relatively detailed overview. Unfortunately, I found it a bit cynical in the treatment of the Church, but less so than one often sees in popular media. As a medievalist, someone with a degree in medieval European history, and a devout Catholic, it's very common to find a lack of understanding of the genuineness of faith, even if it is always imperfectly held and expressed. I thought the connection of the Reformation to the Great Mortality was overstated. Anti-clericalism had been thriving for centuries prior (see Cathars, Albigensians, Beghards, Beguines, and more, for examples), and it wasn't due to a cynical view of the Church in itself, much less the Faith itself, but rather that too often the churchmen of that time were just nobility living off the backs of the worker with little to no actual care for souls. Many reforms in the Church prior to the Black Death (and Protestant Reformation) dealt with these abuses (such as vacant benefices). Medievals didn't expect the clergy to be superhuman--they mainly just didn't like being taken advantage of by wealthy nobility who often had little actual care for their religious duties. And, by the way, pilgrimages, indulgences, and so on were and are genuine things in the Catholic Faith--even today. They are not just cynical means of control and extortion, although not a few of the aforesaid irreligious medieval clergy abused them for personal gain. Even Clement VI, as quoted, knew of the worldliness of many of them when he refused to suppress the mendicants. There's no reason to presume his reaction wasn't a genuine, if atypical for him, expression of faith. No doubt the Plague caused him some personal reckoning with God that may have helped him to be in that moment more like the pastor he should have been. We all have ups and downs in our devotion. People can be weak, cowardly, and greedy (among other failings) and still have genuine religious sentiment; no one is ever all good or all bad. Medievals tended to be much more realistic about this than modern folks who seem to think that being a Christian (or a pastor) somehow innately makes one holier than others. People who see the many moral failings of priests and Christians (today and historically) as some kind of proof it's all just hypocrisy and fake fail to understand this same reality. Christianity never claims to magically make anyone--priests included--live perfectly moral lives; on the contrary, it claims we all fail pretty much all the time in many ways and that's why we need a Redeemer, why we need the Sacraments. The Church is supposed to be a spiritual hospital. It makes no guarantees at all about preventing illness, either in body or in morals, so the notion that medievals lost faith due to this modern, post-Enlightenment notion of being disappointed in the Church's failing (as in its inability to cope with the Plague) just doesn't really add up; at least it certainly doesn't tell the whole story nor, in my estimation, even the main plot line. Dr. Eamon Duffy is a great source for those interested in a deeper exploration of the Reformation and its precursors and after effects, particularly how the rejection of the Catholic Faith was often forced on the populace by political machinations and power grabs more than any kind of general malaise/discontent of the laity (caused by the plagues or otherwise). That paired with the growing democratization of society (noted in this lecture as well) made room for sustained challenge to the political power structures that had become prevalent in the medieval Church. Power and wealth are corrupting influences, and the Church is better off for having divested itself of most of those. It's worth noting that the Catholic Church survived all this and is today the single largest Christian group and a leading religion in the world with over a billion members, despite all these challenges and despite the many, ongoing failings of so many of its members and leaders. There are indeed people who leave the Church over these things, and yet so very many who have genuine faith and remain despite them--because our faith is in God and His promises, not people. They/we are the inheritors of the medieval Church, as a religion and institution. Dr. Armstrong noted we have very little to go on for the perspective of the vast majority of the laity in that time, so the speculation that seeing churchmen die and that some clerics didn't serve well (who were often less religious than the average layman) as a significant contributor to the Reformation is just speculation based on modern presuppositions. Presentation-wise, Dr. Armstrong is a good lecturer--regular changes in intonation, body language, etc. to keep things more interesting. I thought the constant back and forth between the cameras was a bit much and kind of distracting, especially at 2x speed.
Date published: 2021-10-14
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Overview

While the story of the Black Death is one of destruction and loss, it is also one of the most intriguing episodes in human history. Speaking to the full magnitude of this world-changing historical moment, and taught by celebrated medievalist Dorsey Armstrong, this course delves into the plague, its full human repercussions, and its transformative effects on European civilization.

About

Dorsey Armstrong
Dorsey Armstrong

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

INSTITUTION

Purdue University

Dr. Dorsey Armstrong is Associate Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University, where she has taught since 2002. The holder of an A.B. in English and Creative Writing from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in Medieval Literature from Duke University, she also taught at Centenary College of Louisiana and at California State University, Long Beach. Her research interests include medieval women writers, late-medieval print culture, and the Arthurian legend, on which she has published extensively, including the 2009 book Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur: A New Modern English Translation Based on the Winchester Manuscript and Gender and the Chivalric Community in Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur, published in 2003. In January 2009, she became editor-in-chief of the academic journal Arthuriana, which publishes the most cutting-edge research on the legend of King Arthur, from its medieval origins to its enactments in the present moment. Her current research project-Mapping Malory's Morte-is an exploration of the role played by geography in Malory's version of the story of King Arthur.

By This Professor

King Arthur: History and Legend
854
The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague
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Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write about Anything
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Years That Changed History: 1215
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Great Minds of the Medieval World
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The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague

Trailer

Europe on the Brink of the Black Death

01: Europe on the Brink of the Black Death

Begin to contemplate the enormity of the Black Death's impact on the medieval world. As context for the harrowing events to come, take account of the state of medieval society on the eve of the plague. In particular, investigate the religious, economic, and political structures of mid-14th-century Europe.

31 min
The Epidemiology of Plague

02: The Epidemiology of Plague

Explore the medical understanding of plague, as seen in the 6th-century Plague of Justinian, the Black Death of the 1300s, and the 19th-century Third Pandemic. Examine the three predominant varieties of plague, the symptomatology of each, and scientific theories as to the nature and transmission of the disease that ravaged Europe in the 14th century.

29 min
Did Plague Really Cause the Black Death?

03: Did Plague Really Cause the Black Death?

In recent years, scholars have reassessed the causes of the Black Death, questioning how it spread through medieval Europe with such astonishing speed and virulence. Here, investigate additional factors that may have contributed to the devastation, such as other diseases, bacteria, and other possible forms of transmission.

32 min
The Black Death’s Ports of Entry

04: The Black Death’s Ports of Entry

Now examine the plague's first sustained appearance in Europe, at the Crimean trading port of Caffa. Learn about the Mongol siege of the city that preceded the outbreak, and how the plague moved west with escaping sailors. Follow the spread of the plague to Constantinople, to Italy, and into France and England.

31 min
The First Wave Sweeps across Europe

05: The First Wave Sweeps across Europe

Explore how the plague traveled by sea across the Mediterranean, invading port cities and then radiating inward. To get a view of the unfolding devastation, study the events in Sicily, Mallorca, and Avignon, highlighting first-person accounts. Assess ways of measuring the plague's impact and the difficulty of comprehending the scope of the disaster.

30 min
The Black Death in Florence

06: The Black Death in Florence

Observe how Florence, the most advanced community in medieval Europe, dealt with the crippling effects of the plague. Learn about the extraordinary and diverse responses of citizens, and see how city leaders took steps to slow the spread of the disease, to counteract the breakdown of laws and government, and to restore the city.

30 min
The Black Death in France

07: The Black Death in France

Witness the plague's horrific impact at Marseille, and uncover how citizens responded with unusual solidarity. Study the ravages and drastic measures taken at Bordeaux, and see how news of outbreaks sparked violence and the scapegoating of Jews. Grasp the monumental death toll in Paris, whose traumatized public reacted with unbridled hedonism, resignation, and numb indifference to the ubiquitous s...

29 min
The Black Death in Avignon

08: The Black Death in Avignon

As the 14th-century seat of the papacy, Avignon presents an exceptional case. Learn about the lavish, hedonistic lifestyle of the papal court under Pope Clement VI, and review the range and complexity of Avignon's responses to the Black Death, encompassing both religious and science-based efforts. Investigate the populace's surprising resilience.

30 min
The Black Death in England

09: The Black Death in England

The plague ravaged England with stunning ferocity. Consider evidence of other possible disease agents that added to its effects, as well as factors in the environment that exacerbated the epidemic. Follow how the plague spread through inland waterways, with staggering losses to peasant populations and monasteries, and a resulting search for explanations of God's wrath.

30 min
The Black Death in Walsham

10: The Black Death in Walsham

The village of Walsham provides a vivid view of how English society was upended by the plague. Learn about the manorial system, where peasants lived under a local lord and landholder. Discover how the plague's death toll dramatically altered the balance of power between labor and management, transforming the economic opportunities of peasants.

30 min
The Black Death in Scandinavia

11: The Black Death in Scandinavia

The Black Death reached Scandinavian countries at different times, by different routes. Follow the plague's arrival by ship in Norway, then its movement into Sweden and Denmark, and observe how Scandinavian social customs worsened its toll. Learn also about a unique form of folklore and mythos that arose in Scandinavia in response to the plague.

30 min
The End of the First Wave

12: The End of the First Wave

Track the final stages of the plague's initial path through 14th-century Europe, from its incursion into Germanic lands to its devastation of Poland and Russia. Study the socioeconomic conditions within Russia, where lack of labor led to a slave-like system of serfdom, and consider psychosocial responses such as the building of "one-day votive churches."

30 min
Medieval Theories about the Black Death

13: Medieval Theories about the Black Death

Observe how learned minds responded to the plague through the writing and dissemination of plague treatises. Review theories regarding the plague's appearance, from astrological conjunctions and weather to those of "corrupted" air, eclipses, and earthquakes. Take account of contemporary sanitation procedures, medical remedies, and the practices of plague doctors.

29 min
Cultural Reactions from Flagellation to Hedonism

14: Cultural Reactions from Flagellation to Hedonism

Delve into the range of psychosocial responses people had to the plague and to the knowledge of its inescapability. Explore the flagellant movement, whose adherents tortured themselves publicly to atone for the sins of the world. On the opposite end, learn about extreme hedonistic responses, from sexual licentiousness to "choreomania" - obsessive ritual dancing.

32 min
Jewish Persecution during the Black Death

15: Jewish Persecution during the Black Death

Examine the history of anti-Semitism in medieval Europe and the unfolding of conspiracy theories during the plague that Jews were poisoning the Christian population. Witness how anti-Semitic hysteria led to horrific violence and the execution of Jewish populations, even as both Christian and secular leaders attempted to quell such actions.

32 min
Plague’s Effects on the Medieval Church

16: Plague’s Effects on the Medieval Church

The Black Death dealt serious blows to the institution of the Church. Learn how the plague's death toll among the clergy upset the hierarchy and management of religious affairs. Also investigate how the Church's failure to affect any cure or relief from the plague led to a weakening of its authority and status.

31 min
Plague Saints and Popular Religion

17: Plague Saints and Popular Religion

Religious devotion at the popular level proliferated during the Black Death. Follow the dramatic increase in activities such as religious pilgrimage, the building of chantry chapels, and the veneration of saints. Witness the struggle between the official Church doctrine and popular religious beliefs, as people searched desperately for comfort in their darkest hour.

30 min
Artistic Responses to the Black Death

18: Artistic Responses to the Black Death

Discover how artists confronted the plague through new and innovative forms of expression. Among these, study the creation of transi tombs with graphic sculptural effigies of the dead, as well as the remarkable paintings, murals, and woodcuts of the memento mori tradition, which sought to remind viewers of their mortality.

32 min
Literary Responses to the Black Death

19: Literary Responses to the Black Death

The events of the Black Death inspired some of history's greatest literary masterpieces. In this lecture, uncover the range of textual responses to the plague, highlighting William Langland's dream-vision poem Piers Plowman and Boccaccio's Decameron. Learn how the plague set Geoffrey Chaucer on the path to literary immortality.

30 min
The Economics of the Black Death

20: The Economics of the Black Death

Investigate how the plague initially brought massive loss of labor, administrative manpower, and the tax base, as well as far-reaching disruption of farming. Grasp the process by which economic opportunities for the lower and merchant classes - including women - were transformed, and how those who survived were, in most cases, much wealthier than before.

30 min
The Black Death’s Political Outcomes

21: The Black Death’s Political Outcomes

The social and economic changes brought by the plague were inextricably linked to the sphere of politics. Witness how numerous governmental functions dramatically broke down during the plague, and study how, in the aftermath, many governments attempted to maintain the pre-plague status quo, which was untenable in the new world order.

31 min
Communities That Survived the First Wave

22: Communities That Survived the First Wave

Despite the vast spread of the Black Death throughout the European continent, several communities were notably spared during the first wave of the 14th century. In the examples of Finland, Milan, and Nuremberg, investigate how factors of geography, timing, preventive action, and hygiene contributed to saving certain populations.

30 min
Later Plague Outbreaks: 1353-1666

23: Later Plague Outbreaks: 1353-1666

Chart subsequent occurrences of plague across Europe following the Black Death of the 14th century, culminating with the Great Plague of London of 1665-66. Learn how people developed critical strategies to combat outbreaks, from administrative bodies created to deal with the plague to the phenomena of pesthouses for the sick, plague pits, and quarantines.

31 min
How the Black Death Transformed the World

24: How the Black Death Transformed the World

In conclusion, reflect on how the economic, social, and political worlds of Europe reinvented themselves to accommodate the deep changes brought about by the plague. Finally, through examples ranging from medieval smallpox to the recent occurrence of Ebola, consider how diseases and pandemics have shaped human societies and individual behavior throughout history and continue to do so today.

32 min