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The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague

Taught by a celebrated medievalist, go on an unforgettable excursion into the time period of the plague, its full human repercussions, and its transformative effects on European civilization.
The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 394.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Black Death I have watched the first episode and find it very interesting. I am watching it on Wondrium and when I try to play the next episode on my desk top it will not play. I have a subscription and its up to date.While will it not play?
Date published: 2024-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a revelation this series was. It showed me more truth and gave me a great insight into the real story. I look at human development differently now.
Date published: 2024-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Timely Historical Topic Professor Dorsey Armstrong prepared a 186 page guidebook and a series of 24 lectures for this course about the Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague. After reading the guide book and listening to the lectures I was convinced that this was probably one, if not the most, decimating occurrence in all of human history considering that it killed at least 50 percent of the world's known population. Generally, the scope of the course and guidebook covers the Black Death (which struck around 1346 through 1353) from various aspects in order to describe how the pandemic "originated, spread, and transformed the medieval world." The transformation was virtually all-encompassing including the economics, government, religion, warfare, art, literature and everyday living standards of the know world. As Professor Dorsey proceeds through the course, not only does she examine how the plague affected the population at an overall level, but she also examines first person accounts from such places as Florence and Avignon. Being that this brutal period has never been completely explained (the whys and hows), Professor Armstrong also explores some of the more recent ideas on the source and transmission of the plague. She also discusses how the scientific minds of that time interpreted the plague and some of the approaches the medical community tried to use to deal with the disease. Professor Armstrong finalizes the course by discussing some of the recent pandemics such as the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic and Ebola. Interestingly the course was completed in 2016, and a few years later we would be experiencing another pandemic in the way of COVID-19. In many ways, the course was prophetic in predicting the possibility of future pestilences that would and will continue to affect the general population. For me, the course was not only interesting but, in many cases, timely. I had no concept how significant the impact of the Black Death was and how much it changed history following the plague (for example, the Black Death was the one event that, very likely, brought about such historical upheavals as the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance) . In addition, the guidebook was very thorough and Professor Armstrong was very interesting as a lecturer. I would highly recommend this course and guidebook for anyone that is interested in the history of that period or, for that matter, is interested in how a pandemic can affect the general population of our planet.
Date published: 2023-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Lecture Series This lecture series is very well done. Dr. Armstrong is very knowledgeable about the subject. She has excellent presentation skills with a pleasant delivery style. I loved looking for the rats that were placed in different locations in the studio with each lecture.
Date published: 2023-12-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not Recommended Not Recommended My comment is for this course and its followup, “The Black Death: New Lessons from Recent Research”. While I believe the courses have historical value, Dr. Armstrong repeats over and over much of the same content from lesson to lesson. These courses could have been condensed into fewer lessons at less cost. The local library or bookstore probably contains worthwhile books on the Plague. My suggestion: don’t spend your money on these two courses.
Date published: 2023-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent professor. It has been a delight to listen to Dr. Armstrong. Her lectures are scholarly, informative, and punctuated with humor. Her depiction of the medieval world reveals her great knowledge of that era ,which was the bridge between the Roman world and the modern world.
Date published: 2023-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Black Death While frightening to think of plague and what it can do to our world, I have learned a lot about the Black Death and how it has affected our world for so many years and how it still has an affect on us today. Having lived through out 2020 Pandemic called Covid 19 I am ever thankful that my experience with this pandemic is not what the people in the times studied here went through. Thank you to The Great Courses and Dr. Dorsey Armstrong for this very informative and interesting course.
Date published: 2022-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the most insightful courses ever! Professor Armstrong is extremely knowledgeable in her field, and presents her subject with clarity, depth and an amazing sense of humor. I just ordered the sequel to this course, and can't wait to watch it!
Date published: 2022-09-25
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Overview

While the story of the Black Death is one of destruction and loss, it is also one of the most intriguing episodes in human history. Speaking to the full magnitude of this world-changing historical moment, and taught by celebrated medievalist Dorsey Armstrong, this course delves into the plague, its full human repercussions, and its transformative effects on European civilization.

About

Dorsey Armstrong

Every turning point discussed in these lectures shifted the flow of the river of history, bringing us ever closer to the modern world.

INSTITUTION

Purdue University

Dorsey Armstrong is a Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University, where she is also the head of the Department of English. She received her PhD in Medieval Literature from Duke University. She is the executive editor of the academic journal Arthuriana, which publishes cutting-edge research on the legend of King Arthur, from its medieval origins to its modern enactments. She is a recipient of the Charles B. Murphy Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award, Purdue’s top undergraduate teaching honor. Her other Great Courses include The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague and The Medieval World.

By This Professor

King Arthur: History and Legend
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The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague
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Years That Changed History: 1215
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Great Minds of the Medieval World
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The Black Death: New Lessons from Recent Research
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La Peste Negra: La Plaga Más Devastadora del Mundo
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Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write about Anything
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The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague

Trailer

Europe on the Brink of the Black Death

01: Europe on the Brink of the Black Death

Begin to contemplate the enormity of the Black Death's impact on the medieval world. As context for the harrowing events to come, take account of the state of medieval society on the eve of the plague. In particular, investigate the religious, economic, and political structures of mid-14th-century Europe.

31 min
The Epidemiology of Plague

02: The Epidemiology of Plague

Explore the medical understanding of plague, as seen in the 6th-century Plague of Justinian, the Black Death of the 1300s, and the 19th-century Third Pandemic. Examine the three predominant varieties of plague, the symptomatology of each, and scientific theories as to the nature and transmission of the disease that ravaged Europe in the 14th century.

29 min
Did Plague Really Cause the Black Death?

03: Did Plague Really Cause the Black Death?

In recent years, scholars have reassessed the causes of the Black Death, questioning how it spread through medieval Europe with such astonishing speed and virulence. Here, investigate additional factors that may have contributed to the devastation, such as other diseases, bacteria, and other possible forms of transmission.

32 min
The Black Death’s Ports of Entry

04: The Black Death’s Ports of Entry

Now examine the plague's first sustained appearance in Europe, at the Crimean trading port of Caffa. Learn about the Mongol siege of the city that preceded the outbreak, and how the plague moved west with escaping sailors. Follow the spread of the plague to Constantinople, to Italy, and into France and England.

31 min
The First Wave Sweeps across Europe

05: The First Wave Sweeps across Europe

Explore how the plague traveled by sea across the Mediterranean, invading port cities and then radiating inward. To get a view of the unfolding devastation, study the events in Sicily, Mallorca, and Avignon, highlighting first-person accounts. Assess ways of measuring the plague's impact and the difficulty of comprehending the scope of the disaster.

30 min
The Black Death in Florence

06: The Black Death in Florence

Observe how Florence, the most advanced community in medieval Europe, dealt with the crippling effects of the plague. Learn about the extraordinary and diverse responses of citizens, and see how city leaders took steps to slow the spread of the disease, to counteract the breakdown of laws and government, and to restore the city.

30 min
The Black Death in France

07: The Black Death in France

Witness the plague's horrific impact at Marseille, and uncover how citizens responded with unusual solidarity. Study the ravages and drastic measures taken at Bordeaux, and see how news of outbreaks sparked violence and the scapegoating of Jews. Grasp the monumental death toll in Paris, whose traumatized public reacted with unbridled hedonism, resignation, and numb indifference to the ubiquitous s...

29 min
The Black Death in Avignon

08: The Black Death in Avignon

As the 14th-century seat of the papacy, Avignon presents an exceptional case. Learn about the lavish, hedonistic lifestyle of the papal court under Pope Clement VI, and review the range and complexity of Avignon's responses to the Black Death, encompassing both religious and science-based efforts. Investigate the populace's surprising resilience.

30 min
The Black Death in England

09: The Black Death in England

The plague ravaged England with stunning ferocity. Consider evidence of other possible disease agents that added to its effects, as well as factors in the environment that exacerbated the epidemic. Follow how the plague spread through inland waterways, with staggering losses to peasant populations and monasteries, and a resulting search for explanations of God's wrath.

30 min
The Black Death in Walsham

10: The Black Death in Walsham

The village of Walsham provides a vivid view of how English society was upended by the plague. Learn about the manorial system, where peasants lived under a local lord and landholder. Discover how the plague's death toll dramatically altered the balance of power between labor and management, transforming the economic opportunities of peasants.

30 min
The Black Death in Scandinavia

11: The Black Death in Scandinavia

The Black Death reached Scandinavian countries at different times, by different routes. Follow the plague's arrival by ship in Norway, then its movement into Sweden and Denmark, and observe how Scandinavian social customs worsened its toll. Learn also about a unique form of folklore and mythos that arose in Scandinavia in response to the plague.

30 min
The End of the First Wave

12: The End of the First Wave

Track the final stages of the plague's initial path through 14th-century Europe, from its incursion into Germanic lands to its devastation of Poland and Russia. Study the socioeconomic conditions within Russia, where lack of labor led to a slave-like system of serfdom, and consider psychosocial responses such as the building of "one-day votive churches."

30 min
Medieval Theories about the Black Death

13: Medieval Theories about the Black Death

Observe how learned minds responded to the plague through the writing and dissemination of plague treatises. Review theories regarding the plague's appearance, from astrological conjunctions and weather to those of "corrupted" air, eclipses, and earthquakes. Take account of contemporary sanitation procedures, medical remedies, and the practices of plague doctors.

29 min
Cultural Reactions from Flagellation to Hedonism

14: Cultural Reactions from Flagellation to Hedonism

Delve into the range of psychosocial responses people had to the plague and to the knowledge of its inescapability. Explore the flagellant movement, whose adherents tortured themselves publicly to atone for the sins of the world. On the opposite end, learn about extreme hedonistic responses, from sexual licentiousness to "choreomania" - obsessive ritual dancing.

32 min
Jewish Persecution during the Black Death

15: Jewish Persecution during the Black Death

Examine the history of anti-Semitism in medieval Europe and the unfolding of conspiracy theories during the plague that Jews were poisoning the Christian population. Witness how anti-Semitic hysteria led to horrific violence and the execution of Jewish populations, even as both Christian and secular leaders attempted to quell such actions.

32 min
Plague’s Effects on the Medieval Church

16: Plague’s Effects on the Medieval Church

The Black Death dealt serious blows to the institution of the Church. Learn how the plague's death toll among the clergy upset the hierarchy and management of religious affairs. Also investigate how the Church's failure to affect any cure or relief from the plague led to a weakening of its authority and status.

31 min
Plague Saints and Popular Religion

17: Plague Saints and Popular Religion

Religious devotion at the popular level proliferated during the Black Death. Follow the dramatic increase in activities such as religious pilgrimage, the building of chantry chapels, and the veneration of saints. Witness the struggle between the official Church doctrine and popular religious beliefs, as people searched desperately for comfort in their darkest hour.

30 min
Artistic Responses to the Black Death

18: Artistic Responses to the Black Death

Discover how artists confronted the plague through new and innovative forms of expression. Among these, study the creation of transi tombs with graphic sculptural effigies of the dead, as well as the remarkable paintings, murals, and woodcuts of the memento mori tradition, which sought to remind viewers of their mortality.

32 min
Literary Responses to the Black Death

19: Literary Responses to the Black Death

The events of the Black Death inspired some of history's greatest literary masterpieces. In this lecture, uncover the range of textual responses to the plague, highlighting William Langland's dream-vision poem Piers Plowman and Boccaccio's Decameron. Learn how the plague set Geoffrey Chaucer on the path to literary immortality.

30 min
The Economics of the Black Death

20: The Economics of the Black Death

Investigate how the plague initially brought massive loss of labor, administrative manpower, and the tax base, as well as far-reaching disruption of farming. Grasp the process by which economic opportunities for the lower and merchant classes - including women - were transformed, and how those who survived were, in most cases, much wealthier than before.

30 min
The Black Death’s Political Outcomes

21: The Black Death’s Political Outcomes

The social and economic changes brought by the plague were inextricably linked to the sphere of politics. Witness how numerous governmental functions dramatically broke down during the plague, and study how, in the aftermath, many governments attempted to maintain the pre-plague status quo, which was untenable in the new world order.

31 min
Communities That Survived the First Wave

22: Communities That Survived the First Wave

Despite the vast spread of the Black Death throughout the European continent, several communities were notably spared during the first wave of the 14th century. In the examples of Finland, Milan, and Nuremberg, investigate how factors of geography, timing, preventive action, and hygiene contributed to saving certain populations.

30 min
Later Plague Outbreaks: 1353-1666

23: Later Plague Outbreaks: 1353-1666

Chart subsequent occurrences of plague across Europe following the Black Death of the 14th century, culminating with the Great Plague of London of 1665-66. Learn how people developed critical strategies to combat outbreaks, from administrative bodies created to deal with the plague to the phenomena of pesthouses for the sick, plague pits, and quarantines.

31 min
How the Black Death Transformed the World

24: How the Black Death Transformed the World

In conclusion, reflect on how the economic, social, and political worlds of Europe reinvented themselves to accommodate the deep changes brought about by the plague. Finally, through examples ranging from medieval smallpox to the recent occurrence of Ebola, consider how diseases and pandemics have shaped human societies and individual behavior throughout history and continue to do so today.

32 min