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Level 5

5AAH2022 The Black Death

Credit value: 30
Module convenor/tutorDr Alex Sapoznik
Teaching pattern: 20 x 2-hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 3-hour examination (60%), 2 x 2,000 word essays (15% each) & 1 x oral presentation (10%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment by the following methods: 1 x 3 hour examination (60%); 2 x 2,000 word essays (15% each); 1 x 1500 word essay (10%

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years. 

The Black Death was one of the most important, catastrophic, and ultimately transformative events of the Middle Ages. Between 1348 and 1350 nearly half the population of England died. This module will examine the consequences of this demographic devastation, which fundamentally altered relationships between peasants, their lords, and their lands. It focuses on the economic and social implications of the Black Death in England. The first part of the course will introduce the key themes and sources. Subsequent classes concentrate on the immediate impact of the disease, what it was, and how people reacted to the incredible mortality. In later classes the long-term effects of the Black Death on standards of living, freedom and unfreedom, social tension, peasant rebellion,landlords and estate management, marriage and family, religion, art and literature will be considered. Although the course is mostly concerned with the effects of the Black Death in England, several classes are devoted to the European experience of the disease, enabling useful comparisons to be made between England and the Continent. The module covers an exciting and challenging period in the history, leading to greater understanding of social change and everyday life in the crisis-ridden fourteenth century.

Provisional teaching plan

Semester 1

1. Economic and social history: The sources
2. Population and production on the eve of the Black Death
3. Lords and peasants on the eve of the Black Death
4. Urban society on the eve of the Black Death
5. The Black Death: The Middle East and Europe
6. The Black Death: Britain and Ireland
7. What was the Black Death?
8. Medicine in time of plague: Islam and the Christian West
9. Lords and peasants in the aftermath of the Black Death
10. A ‘golden age’? Standards of living before and after the Black Death

Semester 2

11. Urban society in the aftermath of the Black Death
12. The archaeology of the Black Death
13. Social tension in England: The Peasants’ Revolt
14. Family and households in the age of the Black Death
15. The European context: Economy, society and upheaval
16. The European context: Minority persecution
17. Orthodoxy and heresy: Religious response to plague
18. Memento mori: The Black Death and the Arts
19. The Black Death as a turning point?
20. Review week

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these texts is not mandatory.

Benedictow, O., The Black Death 1346-1353. The Complete History (Woodbridge, 2004)

Bolton, J.L., The Medieval English Economy, 1150-1500 (London, 1988) 

Dyer, C., Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages (1989) 

Hatcher, J., Plague, Population and the English Economy 1348-1530 (London, 1977) 

Herlihy, D., The Black Death and the Transformation of the West (Cambridge, Mass., 1997)  

Horrox, R., (ed.), The Black Death (Manchester, 1994)

Ormrod, W.M. and P. Lindley (eds.), The Black Death in England (Stamford, 1996) 

Platt, C., King Death: The Black Death and Its Aftermath in Late-Medieval England (London, 1996) 

Ziegler, P., The Black Death (London, 1969) or subsequent editions

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