The Black Death and the Transformation of the West (European History Series) Paperback – 7 Oct 1997
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ÝA¨ fine addition to thinking on the ÝBlack Death¨ and an example of how good historical thought evolves.
The essays offer a number of fresh perspectives on the Black Death, the series of plagues that ravaged Europe after 1347.
Bold, novel theories, sure to be controversial, about the medieval pandemic known as the Black Death...Herlihy revisits much of the conventional wisdom about the demographic, cultural, and even medical impact of the plague...A stimulating discussion of some rarely considered aspects of one of history's turning points.
ÝThese¨ essays redefine the historical study of the Black Death...Herlihy's contention is that we can learn from this 'devastating natural disaster'; for example, parallels can be drawn to today's pandemic of AIDS, especially in the resultant bigotries that both engendered...This book, which opens a new chapter on the history and implications of the plague, is essential for all readers of medieval history.
[A] fine addition to thinking on the [Black Death] and an example of how good historical thought evolves.
[These] essays redefine the historical study of the Black Death...Herlihy's contention is that we can learn from this 'devastating natural disaster'; for example, parallels can be drawn to today's pandemic of AIDS, especially in the resultant bigotries that both engendered...This book, which opens a new chapter on the history and implications of the plague, is essential for all readers of medieval history.
Herlihy proposed that the Black Death led to "the transformation of the West" and shaped crucial aspects of modern thinking and behavior. Briefly and lucidly, Herlihy argued that Europe was...locked into Malthusian stasis, with a population unable to improve its standard of living and possessed of a set of unchanging and stagnating institutions. The Black Death was to shake Europe out of its immobile lethargy and to initiate processes of renewal...Samuel Cohn's succinct introduction provides an excellent commentary on Herlihy's theses.--Andrew Wear "Times Literary Supplement "
Focusing on the Black Death which reduced the population in some European cities by 80 percent, Herlihy draws some powerful parallels between the plague and AIDS...His argument is a provocative one which will lead other historians to re-examine not only the period of the Black Death but the foundations of medieval and modern medicine.--Lara Marks "History Today "
Herlihy died in 1991, leaving these 1985 lectures among his unpublished papers. In them, he raises questions about the impact of the black death on everyday society, agrarian practices, the use of inventions, travel, and medical theory and practice. Because of their provocative ideas and new ways of looking at older assumptions, they are highly worthy of publication.--William Beatty "Booklist "
The articles in this collection surprisingly are as fresh today as when they were delivered. David Herlihy utilizes new approaches and new forms of evidence to raise intriguing suggestions concerning the economic, social, and cultural history of European civilization and the borderlines between medieval and modern Europe. Supplemented by Samuel K. Cohn's invaluable introduction, they will stimulate a wealth of new historical investigation. This work can be read with profit by undergraduates, graduate students, and professional historians.--William M. Bowsky, University of California, Davis, author of A Medieval Italian Commune
Living in the age of AIDS, Ebola fever, and the prospect of new, lethal diseases, we can surely benefit from the historical perspective David Herlihy provides in this wonderful book on the plague of 1348. Herlihy raises important questions about the exact nature of the disease, and how the economy and society of medieval Europe responded to unprecedented catastrophe. How do people explain the origin and course of a new disease? How do people react when the established institutions of church, state, and science fail to offer acceptable explanations for the occurrence of extraordinary levels of mortality? Herlihy answers these questions and offers fresh insights on an old killer that have a timely meaning for the modern world. Cohn provides a wise, contextual introduction and has skillfully edited these essays, making available once more to old friends and new readers the distinctive style and thoughts of David Herlihy.--Steven Epstein, University of Colorado at Boulder, author of Wage Labor and Guilds in Medieval Europe
The work of a mature, indeed brilliant, scholar. This is a succinct, lucid, provocative, and very learned treatment of the Black Death in its causes and consequences.--Thomas Kuehn, author of Law, Family, and Women
About the Author
David Herlihy (d. 1991) was Barnaby Conrad and Mary Critchfield Keeney Professor and Professor of History at Brown University. Samuel K. Cohn, Jr., is Professor of Medieval History at the University of Glasgow. Among his books are The Cult of Remembrance and the Black Death and Women in the Streets: Essays on Sex and Power in the Italian Renaissance.
Top customer reviews
I found this book to be quite intriguing read, and holds a great benefit for those who are interested in studying the horrific events of the Black Death.
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He addresses three issues. First, he points out that historians really can't be sure of the composition of the plague itself. Was it actually all just bubonic plague, or some combination of various other diseases? Second, what were the economic effects of the plague? Did the relative scarcitity of labor following the plague break Europe out of a 'Malthusian deadlock' into a growing economy? Finally, what was the effect of the plague on the social order? Did it help to Christianize Europe?
The book is written in a fairly academic style, but it is very readable. My biggest complaint is that is so short. I wish he had written more.
Regarding the epidemiological record of the Black Death, Herlihy questions the accepted interpretation that it was bubonic plague. First, he points out, Yersina pestis (bubonic plague) is transmitted through the rat flea, using humans as only a secondary host, as it much prefers rats. In fact, Herlihy posits, the rat fleas will only use humans as hosts in the absence of rats - yet curiously there are no records of large amounts of dead (or dying or oddly behaving rats) in any sources. The ebb and flow of the Black Death is also scrutinized - why, Herlihy asks, did the mortality slow during the winter and pick up and spread during the summer? Were it pneumonic plague, one would expect the opposite, as people were huddled together in homes around the hearth. Excellent questions - unfortunately, there has been no real work done on this (other than the maligned Graham Twigg, in his The Black Death: A biological reappraisal. Herlhy does not provide any satisfactory answers, either.
Herlihy's discussion of the economic effects were of particular interest, as he does much to illustrate that Western europe was locked in a "Malthusian deadlock", which was only broken by the Plague. The quantitive data he brings to bear on this (in terms of both commodity prices as well as guild membership) reinforced his point. The final lecture, on the sociological effects was the weakest of the three, although his discussion of the shift in intellecutal attitudes (and the growth of universities) brought new material to my attention.
As a brief introduction to the event, I highly recommend it. The comparisons to the current epidemological crises we face (Herlihy mentions AIDS repeatedly, not always a good fit, I think) is a little more specious. Nonetheless, a quick and worthwhile read.
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