School of Policy Studies

School of Policy Studies
School of Policy Studies

Queen's Contagion Cultures Lecture Series

Tuesday October 20, 2020  

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The Black Death: A Global Pandemic and its Consequences in the Middle Ages 

Adnan Husain
Associate Professor and Queen's National Scholar, Department of History

Margaret Pappano
Associate Professor and Graduate Chair of English, Department of English

Before the Covid pandemic or the so-called “Spanish Flu” from the early twentieth-century, the Black Death, in the middle of the fourteenth century, was the great global pandemic that transformed history, society, and culture. It is also considered the deadliest disease ever to sweep across the globe, killing approximately a third to a half of urban populations in the Mediterranean world and beyond. 

Like the Covid pandemic, its origins were located in the east, which made foreigners and religious minorities identified with eastern regions vulnerable to xenophobia and scapegoatings in the European context. At the same time, historians argue that it ushered in the end of the “feudal system,” inaugurating new forms of social organization, expansion of independent towns, the growth of an artisanal class, and creating ambitious cultural models that posited a recognition of human solidarity in everyday life. 

This talk will review the global consequences of the Black Death, especially across Europe and the Middle East. It will focus on historical and literary representations that demonstrate how these cultural models were discussed and deployed to try to make sense of what seemed beyond human comprehension and, to many, a divine scourge.