The Black Death Transformed
Disease and Culture in Early Renaissance EuropeBook - 2003
The Black Death in Europe, from its arrival in 1347-52 through successive waves into the early modern period, has been seriously misunderstood by historians. This revolutionary account provides compelling evidence that the Black Death could have been almost any disease other than the rat-based bubonic plague whose bacillus was discovered in 1894. Since the late nineteenth 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, The Black Death Transformed returns to its subject afresh, using sources spread across a huge geographical tract, from Lisbon to Uzbekistan, Sicily to Scotland and 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, merchant letters and many more. These sources confirm the terror of the medieval plague, the rapidity of its spread, and the utter despondency left in the wake of its first strike. But they also point to significant differences between the medieval and modern bubonic plague, none more significant than the ability of humans to acquire natural immunity to the former but not the latter.