Black Death Network
Although the Black Death has for long had a good grip on the imagination of scholars, researchers and the wider public much is still unknown about both the context, the cause and the wider ramifications of the plague, which ravaged Europe in the 14th and 15th century.
A new interdisciplinary network has recently been formed in order to further new interdisciplinary research studying concrete regional and local cases. In a presentation Rainer Schreg, one of the initiators of the network, explains the background for the project:
“The 14th century was a profoundly tumultuous period in European history. Climatic deterioration in the first quarter of the century triggered harvest failures and human famine in a population that had already exceeded the carrying capacity of agricultural production. Human famine was compounded by the widespread loss of cattle and sheep as epizootics spread across the continent. In many parts of Europe, continuous warfare and the consequential increased burden of taxation further stretched agricultural production to breaking point. Later – in the middle of the century – the Black Death swept through Europe killing 30–60% of the population. These calamitous events had profound social and economic repercussions that resonated far beyond the immediate aftermath of the population crash in the late 1340s and early 1350s. Understanding the 14th-century crises needs: a broad interdisciplinary approach, bringing together humanities and sciences; a comparative approach to enable the examination of different landscapes with their distinct historical and ecological background. An ecological perspective on a local or regional scale may help to understand the specific causes and effects. It may help to overcome deterministic interpretations and to deal with the complexities of the 14th centuries crises and the human responses to them.”
Some of the scholars involved are
- Historians working with specific local cases
- Medieval Archaeologists looking at shifting settlements and land use patterns
- Zooarchaeologists and archaeobotanists
- working with the changes in diet, land use practices etc.
- Physical Anthropologists working with the skeletal remains of plague, the study of DNA as well as stress indicators of the disease. And the analysis of stable isotopes, which can be used to detect climatic change, while others (e.g. Strontium) have the potential to track the movement of people and livestock.
- Geoarchaeologists studying the effects of heavy weather and land use practices of the countryside.
- Entomologists detectning micro-and macro-environmental changes as well as the proliferation of fleas (carriers of the plague)
- Dendrologists and meteorologists studying the weather conditions and climate changes
Some of these disciplines have contributed important research, while others are just entering the field. Basically it is to relate the knowledge of the different subjects together. The Black Death Network grew out of a session of the Conference of the European Association of Achaeologists (together with Medieval Europe Research Conference MERC) 2012 in Helsinki, Finland.
There is also a dedicated Facebook Page