Thursday afternoons, 2:30-5:50

Dr. George Dameron

Department of History/Library 306

Office Hours:  Wednesday, 9-12, and by appointment

Personal Website:  http://academics.smcvt.edu/gdameron



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 have Junior or Senior standing.



         Active participation in the seminar: 20% of final grade.  No unexcused absences are allowed.  Students who miss a seminar meeting will need to submit a 2-page, double-spaced focus paper on the assigned readings for that day.  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 12, 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 4 or 11:  10% of final grade;

         A brief prospectus and annotated bibliography related to the research project due  October 30:  10% of grade;

         two brief essays (2-4 pages) responding to questions related to assigned readings due on September 18 and October 2:  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. 


Course Format.

The seminar will focus on class discussions of the assigned readings and papers, and it will meet weekly on Thursdays, from 2:30 to 5:15 (normally, the seminar will last 2.5 hours, with a 15-minute break in the middle).   However, students should be prepared to remain through the regularly scheduled period, 2:30 to 5:50 pm (especially at our first seminar meeting, the day we go to the library orientation, and the seminars in which there are student presentations).  The study questions posted at the eCollege web site will help guide our discussions.  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. 


Required texts for purchase:




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




Week 1 (September 4):  Introduction and Orientation to Seminar


Week 2 (September 11):  Disease—What It Does and Its Early History


Week 3 (September 18):  Disease, Medicine, and Their History


Week 4 (September 25):  Pre-modern Medicine


Week 5 (October 2):  Pre-modern Medicine


Week 6 (October 9):  The Great Pandemic at the End of Antiquity (Introduction, The Middle East, and Byzantium)


Week 7 (October 16):  The Great Pandemic (The Latin West, The Near East, and the Promise of Molecular Biology)


WEEK 8 (October 23):  The Black Death at the End of the Middle Ages (Its Arrival, The Persecution of Jews, and The Appearance of Flagellants)


Week 9 (October 30):  The Black Death and Its Consequences (Social and Economic)


Week 10 (November 6):  The Black Death (Recent Assessments about Economic and Cultural Consequences)


Week 11 (November 13):  The Black Death in Popular History and in the Popular Imagination


Week 12 (November 20): Recent Scholarship on the Black Death


Week 13 (November 27):  No Seminar (Thanksgiving Break)


Week 14 (December 4):  Cholera; Seminar Presentations


Week 15 (December 11):  Seminar Presentations and Conclusion