History 224
The Black Death: The Crisis of Feudalism and Ecological Disaster in Europe. 1300-1500

Spring 1994

Department of History and Historic Preservations
University of Vermont

Mr. George Dameron

Office: Wheeler House 307 l
Office Hours: Thursday 1-3 (and by appointment)
Seminar Meeting: Thursday, 3:10-5:40

Permanent office:
Department of History and American Studies
St. Michael's College
Library 306

The human and ecological catastrophe of the Black Death was the most serious and devastating crisis in European history before World War II. One-third to a half of the entire population of Europe died as a result of the outbreak of the plague in the fourteenth century. Originating in the Gobi Desert in central Asia, it was brought to Sicily along the trade routes that linked Asia with Europe. From Sicily the three types of plague (bubonic, septicaemic, and pneumonic) spread northward throughout Europe. The threat of limited or world-wide nuclear war after 1945, as well as the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in the past decade, have reinvigorated scholarly and popular interest in the Black Death and its consequences.

The purposes of the course are several: First, the course will offer (in a seminar format) a topical but detailed interdisciplinary overview of Europe before, during, and after the outbreak of these diseases. The course is not chronologically limited to the fourteenth century. Indeed, our readings and assignments will take us into the early modern era. We will look at its impact on society (family structure, the status of women), the economy (the shift to cash-cropping, governmental attempts to place a ceiling on wages, peasant and worker revolts of the fourteenth century), and culture (particularly on Italian painting and English literature).

Second, by using the Black Death as a case study, the course will allow us to explore the complex impact of disease and epidemics on society. Highlighted in this course will be the study of the persecution of minorities by a dominant culture at a time of economic, social, and epidemiological crisis. The focus will be global, so we will situate the developments within Europe within a global frameworks As we live through an AIDS epidemic ourselves, we can explore in an analogous fashion how our ancestors perceived and confronted another epidemic that killed over a third of the population. Third, History 224 will help train the student to think both critically and in an interdisciplinary fashion. Fourth, the course will encourage a global approach to learning. Fifth, the research project will allow each student to examine in detail--by relying on the primary sources available to the historian--some aspect of the role that the recurrence of this disease played in human development.

There are no formal prerequisites for this course, but students should ideally have taken some introductory courses in medieval or early modern European history before registering into this course.

The requirements of the course are the following:
1) participation in weekly seminar meetings and oral presentation on the selected research project (308 of final grade);

2) a 15-18 page research paper (40% of grade) on any topic associated with the Black Death or its consequences (political, economic, social, cultural) [graduate students will complete a 20 - 25 page paper], due MAY 4 (the last day of the semester);

3) a brief prospectus and bibliography related to the research project, due MARCH 2 (10% of grade);

4) two brief essays (3-5 pages) responding to questions relating to assigned readings (208 of grade, 10% apiece). The second essay will be on Albert Camus' The Plague and/or Bergman's "The Seventh Seal," in the light of the issues we have studied in this course.

The first essay is due on FEBRUARY 10, and the one on Camus is due
on APRIL 28 (the last seminar meeting).

I will arrange to meet with each student during my office hours in February to discuss her/his research project.

Required texts for purchase:

R. H. Hilton, Bond Men Made Free: Medieval Peasant Movements and the English Rising of 1381 (London: Routledge, 1973)

Millard Meiss, Painting in Florence and Siena after the Black Death (New York 1964).

William McNeill, Plagues and Peoples (Doubleday 1976).

R. I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society (Oxford; Basil
Blackwell, 1987).

Philip Ziegler, The Black Death (New York: Harper, 1969).

Albert Camus, The Plague (New York: Modern Library, 1948).

Required readings on reserve (all in Bailey Howe).

Boccaccio, The Decameron.

James Brundage, Law, Sex. and Christian Society in Medieval Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987)

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (Penguin 1977)

Samuel K. Cohn, The Cult of Remembrance and the Black Death: Six Renaissance Cities in Central Italy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).

George Dameron, Episcopal Power and Florentine Society, 1000-1320 (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, l991).

Charles de la Ronciere, "Tuscan Notables on the Eve of the Renaissance," in A History of Private Life: II. Revelations of the Medieval World, ed. Georges Duby (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1988), 157-310

R. B. Dobson, ed. The Peasants' Revolt of 1381 (Houndmills, U. K.: Macmillan, 1983).

Georges Duby, Rural Economy and Country Life in the Medieval West (University of South Carolina, 1968)

Robert Gottfried, The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe (New York: The Free Press, 1986).

David Herlihy, Medieval Households (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1985).

Johann Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985)

Gavin Langmuir, Toward a Definition of Antisemitism (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990).

Polzer, in The Black Death. The Impact of the Fourteenth Century Plague, ed. Daniel Williman (Binghamton, N. Y.: SUNY, 1982)

Lawrence Poos, A Rural Society and the Black Death: Essex. 1350- 1525 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

Walter Wakefield and A. Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991).

Hans Zinsser, Rats. Lice. and History (Little Brown 1935).

For reference (not on reserve), see
Mortimer Chambers, Raymond Grew, David Herlihy, T. Rabb and Isser Woloch, The Western Experience, 4th edition (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987)

This file is part of Hope Greenberg's Graduate Portfolio for the course History 224. Created 12 March 1997.