Tuesday/Thursday 1:10-2:40

Dr. George Dameron

Department of History/Office:  Library 306

Office Hours:  Mondays, 8:30-10:30; Wednesdays, 4-5



Description: http://www.medievalists.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Black-Death.jpg

Source:  Medievalists.net



The human and ecological catastrophe of the Black Death in the middle of the fourteenth century was the most serious and devastating epidemiological and demographic crisis in world history.  One-third to a half of the entire population of Europe and equally high proportions of people in Asia and North Africa perished.  The threat of limited or world-wide nuclear war after 1945, the AIDS epidemic, hemoragghic fevers in the past two decades, and the horrifying ecological and natural disasters in the Indian Ocean in 2004 and China in 2008 have invigorated both professional and popular interest in the study of the Black Death and its consequences.


The purposes of the course are several: 1) to use the Black Death as a case study to examine the impact of disease on human history and the consequences of human history on the development of disease, 2) to expose the student to recent research and scholarship regarding the disease, 3) to examine in a comparative fashion how human societies over time have reacted and adjusted to cataclysmic epidemiological, demographic, and ecological disasters; 4) to encourage a global approach to the understanding of history, 5) to encourage critical thinking about the past through a careful study of primary sources, 6) to offer the student an opportunity to do advanced research on a topic of his or her choosing associated with the Black Death, 8) to stimulate student interest in the study of the pre-modern world, 9) to prepare advanced students for graduate work, and 10) to fulfill one of the 4-credit elective requirements in the History major and/or Medieval Studies minor.



The prerequisite for the course is any of the following courses:  History 105, History 109, History 111, Humanities 101, Humanities 203, or permission of the instructor.  Students should normally have Junior or Senior standing.



·         Active participation and attendance in the seminar: 20% of final grade.  No unexcused absences are allowed.  It is the responsibility of each student to keep up with the reading.  Not doing so can have a negative impact on the grade for the seminar.

·         A 12-15 page research paper on a topic associated with the Black Death:  40% of final grade, due Friday, December 9, at my office.  (NOTE: for every day the paper is late, half a letter grade will be deducted from the grade). 

·         A ten (10) minute oral presentation to the seminar at the end of the semester summarizing research results on either December 1, 6, and 8:  10% of final grade;

·         A brief prospectus and annotated bibliography related to the research project due  October 27:  10% of grade;

·         two brief essays (2-4 pages) responding to questions related to assigned readings due on September 15 and September 29:  20% of grade, 10% apiece.


Documented Learning Differences

Students with documented learning differences should feel free to discuss with me special accommodations regarding assignments of the course. 


Seminar Format.

The seminar will focus on class discussions of the assigned readings and papers, and it will meet twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  The study questions posted at the eCollege web site will help guide our discussions.  There will be no lectures.  Every week one or more students will bring a question or comment on the readings to the seminar to initiate discussion on that day.  During the semester we will have an orientation to the library and to its resources (both print and online resources) available for the research paper.  A bibliography of primary and secondary sources on the Black Death and on disease will be available at the seminar eCollege Web site and at my personal Web site.  There will be one evening film (“The Seventh Seal”) on the evening of November 3 (the evening screening will substitute for the regular afternoon seminar meeting, which will not take place).  We will also have a field trip (unrequired) to see the film, “Contagion,” in September.


All electronic devices will powered off during the seminar, except with the permission of the instructor.  Students will not leave during seminar sessions except for illness or another very compelling reason.



Required texts for purchase:




Required readings on reserve (all in Durick) and/or online:


·         John Aberth, “Introduction,” in Plagues in World History (Lanham, Md.:  Rowman Littlefield, 2011).  On eCollege.

·         Ole Benedictow, The Black Death, 1346-1353: the complete history (boydell 2004)

·         Samuel Kline Cohn, Jr., “The Black Death and the Burning of the Jews,” in Past and Present 196 (1) (August 2007):  3-36

·         Samuel Kline Cohn, Jr., “The Black Death: The End of a Paradigm,” The American Historical Review 107.3 (June 2002):  p703 (36).  Online reserve.

·         Stephanie Haensch, Raffaella Biannucci, et al., “Distinct Clones of Yersinia Pestis Caused the Black Death,” PLoS Pathogens October 2010.

·         David Herlihy, The Black Death and the Transformation of the West (1997)

·         Richard Preston, The Hot Zone (New York:  Random House, 1994). On reserve (Circulation Desk)

·         Vivian Nutton, “The Rise of Medicine,” in The Cambridge Illustrated History of Medicine, ed. Roy Porter (Cambridge, 1996):  52-81.  On eCollege

·         John M. Theilmann and Frances Cate, “A Plague of Plagues:  The Problem of Plague Diagnosis in Medieval England,” in The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 37:3 (2006):  371-393

·          Michael Vargas, “How a “Brood of Vipers” Survived the Black Death; Recovery and Dysfunction in the Fourteenth-Century Dominican Order,” Speculum 86 (3) 2011: 688-714.  On reserve (Circulation Desk)

·         Shona Kelley Wray, “Boccaccio and the Doctors:  Medicine and Compassion in the Face of Plague.”  The Journal of Medieval History 30 (3) September 2004):  301-22.  On reserve (Circulation Desk)



Optional reading (at eCollege):  Kenneth E. Kiple, “The history of disease,” in The Cambridge Illustrated History of Medicine, 6-15.  On eCollege



Week 1:  Introduction and Orientation to Seminar


Week 2 :  Disease—Its Early History


Week 3:  Pre-Modern Medicine


Week 4:  Pre-Modern Medicine


Week 5:  Plague and the End of Antiquity


Week 6:  Plague:  the End of Antiquity and the Fourteenth Century

·         October 4:  Little, Part 5

·         October 6:  Kelly, chapters 1-4; Benedictow, part one


Week 7:  The Black Death



Week 8:  The Black Death:  A Personal History


Week 9:  The Black Death:  A Personal History (continued)


Week 10:  The Black Death: The Debates about Its Identity


Week 10:  The Black Death and Film


Week 11:  Recent Scholarship on the Black Death


Week 12:  Disease in the Modern World


Week 13:  Disease in the Modern World:  The Case of Cholera


Week 14:  Disease in the Modern World:  The Case of Cholera


Week 15:  Seminar Presentations (continued)