Thursday, June 30, 2005

Plague and Public Health in Renaissance Europe

Plague and Public Health in Renaissance Europe - This project involves the creation of a hypertext archive of narratives, medical consilia, governmental records, religious and spiritual writings and images documenting the arrival, impact and response to the problem of epidemic disease in Western Europe between 1348 and 1530.

I have often wondered how different history would have been if the plague had not hit Europe so hard and often in the Middle Ages.

Some theorize that the plague helped to kill feudalism as there were not enough living serfs to support it. This may be true.

I also know that the repeated plagues hurt the military strength of the Christian nations harder than the Islamic nations. Did the plague give the Muslim armies an edge? Would the Turks have been as successful in Eastern Europe if more Christians had survived the plague?

From the site:

The coming of the Black Death, when in just two years perhaps one third to one half of Europe's population was destroyed, marks a watershed in Medieval and Renaissance European History. Bubonic plague (Yersinia pestis) had been absent from Western Europe for nearly a millenium when it appeared in 1348. The reaction was immediate and devastating. Up to two thirds of the population of many of the major European cities succumbed to the plague in the first two years. Government, trade and commerce virtually came to a halt.

Even more devastating to Europeans, there was hardly a generation which did not experience a local, regional or pan-European epidemic for the next two hundred years. There was virtually no aspect of European society that was not affected by the coming of plague and by its duration. At the most basic level, recurrent plague tended to skim off significant portions of the children born between infestations of plague, dampening economic and demographic growth in most parts of Europe until the late seventeenth century. The responses of Europeans are often treated as irrational or superstitious. Yet medical tracts, moral treatises and papal proclamations make clear that for most Europeans there were, within the medieval world view, rational explanations for what was happening.

Plague stimulated chroniclers, poets and authors, and physicians to write about what might have caused the plague and how the plague affected the population at large the framing story of Boccaccio's Decameron is merely the most famous of the writings. Nonetheless, in the wake of the first infestations there were attacks on women lepers and Jews who were thought either to have deliberately spread the plague or, because of their innate dishonor, to have polluted society and brought on God's vengeance. The violence against outsiders demonstrated, in a tragically negative manner, the nature and the limits of citizenship in Europe. This was a society which defined itself as Christian and recurrent plague changed religious practice, if not belief.

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