Description - The Black Death Transformed by Samuel K. Cohn, Jr.
The Black Death in Europe, from its arrival in 1347-52 through successive waves into the early modern period, has been seriously misunderstood. It is clear from the evidence presented in this account that the Black Death was almost any disease other than the rat-based bubonic plague whose bacillus was discovered in 1894. Since the late 19th century, the rat and flea have stood wrongly accused as the agents of transmission and historians and scientists have uncritically imposed the epidemiology of modern plague on the past. Unshackled from this misconception, this guide turns to its subject afresh, using sources spread across a huge geographic tract, from Lisbon to Uzbekistan, Sicily to Scotland: more than 40,000 death documents (from last wills and testaments to the earliest surviving burial records), over 400 chronicles, 250 plague tracts, 50 saints' lives, merchants' letters and much more. These sources confirm the terror of the medieval plague, the rapidity of its spread (unlike modern plague) and the utter despondency left in the wake of its first strike.
But they also point to significant differences between medieval and modern plague, none more significant than the ability of humans to acquire natural immunity to the former but not the latter. Over its first hundred years, adaptation to the new microbial plague enemy came with striking speed and success. In place of despondency came a new sense of confidence. From God and the stars, contemporaries turned to cures and socially grounded explanations. And in this context the Renaissance found a foothold and climbed with assurance - not only in Florence but in places as far removed from the supposed centres of Renaissance culture as Danzig. Such a major cultural and psychological change centred, this study argues, on the particular character of the disease - the swiftness with which Europeans adapted to their new bacillus (whatever it might have been).
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(234mm x 156mm x 17mm)
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Author Biography - Samuel K. Cohn, Jr.
Samuel K. Cohn is a professor at the University of Glasgow.