Friday seminar: The Black Death: An enduring enigma
By Prof. Bruce M.S. Campbell, Emeritus Professor of Medieval Economic History at The Queen's University of Belfast, Northern Ireland
The Black Death and its sequel outbreaks have long been recognised as one of the greatest of all historical game changers. Since 2000 break-through research by biologists has identified and decoded the pathogen responsible for this most mortal of diseases and located the Old World reservoir whence it most likely originated. Concurrent research by palaeo-climatologists and historians has brought its environmental and societal contexts and human impacts into sharper focus and highlighted the pan-continental dimensions of the pandemic. The Great Transition: Climate, Disease and Society in the Late-Medieval World (Cambridge, 2016), takes stock of these advances in knowledge and offers historians a fresh synthesis of this fast-moving field of research. After long debate and much speculation, we now know what the Black Death was, where it begun, and the key role played by ecological factors in triggering repeated outbreaks. Nevertheless, many puzzles remain: the routes that it traversed, the speed of its spread, the hosts that sustained and vectors that transmitted it, the climatic circumstances that propelled it, the capacity, over time, of human populations to recover from it, and much else. This paper therefore outlines some of the more intriguing questions that await answers and proposes an agenda for future research.
Bruce Campbell is an Emeritus Professor of Medieval Economic History at the School of the Natural and Built Environments, The Queen's University of Belfast.