Sioux Falls Atheists
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Sioux Falls Atheists endorse The Black Death course for describing the
impact the Black Death had on the peoples of Europe,
and on the future history of the world.

The Black Death:
The World's Most Devastating Plague
Lectures by Professor Dorsey Armstrong

The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague
(2016) - 24 lectures, 12 hours
The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague  at

Travel into a transformative moment in history and learn how the Black Death ignited processes that led to the Renaissance, the Reformation, and beyond.

In the late 1340s, a cataclysmic plague shook medieval Europe to its core. The bacterial disease known to us as the Black Death swept westward across the continent, leaving a path of destruction from Crimea and Constantinople to Italy, France, Spain, and ultimately most of Europe, traveling as far west as England and Iceland. Within these locations, the plague killed up to 50% of the population in less than 10 years—a staggering 75 million dead.

  • Many of us know the Black Death as a catastrophic event of the medieval world. But three vital elements of the story often go unrecognized:
  • The Black Death was arguably the most significant event in Western history, profoundly affecting every aspect of human life, from the economic and social to the political, religious, and cultural.
  • In its wake, the plague left a world that was utterly changed, forever altering the traditional structure of European societies and forcing a rethinking of every single system of Western civilization: food production and trade, the Church, political institutions, law, art, and more.

In large measure, by the profundity of the changes it brought, the Black Death produced the modern world we live in today.

While the story of the Black Death is one of destruction and loss, its breathtaking scope and effects make it one of the most compelling and deeply intriguing episodes in human history. Understanding the remarkable unfolding of the plague and its aftermath provides a highly revealing window not only on the medieval world but also on the forces that brought about the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and modernity itself.

Speaking to the full magnitude of this world-changing historical moment, The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague, taught by celebrated medievalist Dorsey Armstrong of Purdue University, takes you on an unforgettable excursion into the time period of the plague, its full human repercussions, and its transformative effects on European civilization.

A Catastrophe Unprecedented in Human Experience

In 24 richly absorbing lectures, you’ll follow the path of the epidemic in its complete trajectory across medieval Europe. You’ll examine the epidemiological causes of the disaster; the social panic it spawned; its influence on religion, society, politics, economics, and art; and the long-term consequences for a continent that, less than two centuries later, would have the technology and the wherewithal to explore a new world.

In the process, you’ll learn about these remarkable and emblematic effects of the Black Death:

  • By revealing the corruption and inadequacies of the Church in the face of people’s desperate need, the plague sowed the seeds of the Reformation.
  • The plague upended the class system in Europe, permanently changing the balance of power between laborers and lords, peasants and nobles.
  • The epidemic transformed social opportunities for the working and merchant classes: peasants could become clergy, serfs could become tenant farmers, merchants could marry into the nobility, and women could enter trades and professions.
  • Perhaps most surprising of all, those who survived the plague were often wealthier than they’d been before, and had access to more opportunities.

These changes utterly upended structures of social, economic, and religious power that had been in place for centuries, leaving chaos in their wake—and room for new ideas and institutions to arise.

Professor Dorsey Armstrong is Associate Professor of English at Purdue university and an expert on the legend of King Arthur. She received her A.B. in English and Creative Writing from Stanford University and Her Ph.D. in Medieval Literature from Duke University. Professor Armstrong has written extensively on Arthurian literature and Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur and is editor in chief of the celebrated academic journal Arthruiana. In addition to Arthurian literature, her research interests include medieval women writers and late medieval print culture.

24 Lectures - 30 minutes each

1: Europe on the Brink of the Black Death 13: Medieval Theories about the Black Death
2: The Epidemiology of Plague 14: Cultural Reactions from Flagellation to Hedonism
3: Did Plague Really Cause the Black Death? 15: Jewish Persecution during the Black Death
4: The Black Death's Ports of Entry 16: Plague's Effects on the Medieval Church
5: The First Wave Sweeps across Europe 17: Plague Saints and Popular Religion
6: The Black Death in Florence 18: Artistic Responses to the Black Death
7: The Black Death in France 19: Literary Reponses to the Black Death
8: The Black Death in Avignon 20: The Economics of the Black Death
9: The Black Death in England 21: The Black Death's Political Outcomes
10: The Black Death in Walsham 22: Communities That Survived the First Wave
11: The Black Death in Scandinavia 23: Later Plague Outbreaks: 1353-1666
12: The End of the First Wave 24: How the Black Death Transformed the World


1-15-18 Black Death 'spread by humans not rats'
Rats were not to blame for the spread of plague during the Black Death, according to a study. The rodents and their fleas were thought to have spread a series of outbreaks in 14th-19th Century Europe. But a team from the universities of Oslo and Ferrara now says the first, the Black Death, can be "largely ascribed to human fleas and body lice". The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, uses records of its pattern and scale. The Black Death claimed an estimated 25 million lives, more than a third of Europe's population, between 1347 and 1351. "We have good mortality data from outbreaks in nine cities in Europe," Prof Nils Stenseth, from the University of Oslo, told BBC News. "So we could construct models of the disease dynamics [there]." He and his colleagues then simulated disease outbreaks in each of these cities, creating three models where the disease was spread by: rats, airborne transmission, fleas and lice that live on humans and their clothes. In seven out of the nine cities studied, the "human parasite model" was a much better match for the pattern of the outbreak. It mirrored how quickly it spread and how many people it affected. "The conclusion was very clear," said Prof Stenseth. "The lice model fits best." "It would be unlikely to spread as fast as it did if it was transmitted by rats. "It would have to go through this extra loop of the rats, rather than being spread from person to person."

The Black Death:
The World's Most Devastating Plague
Lectures by Professor Darcy Armstrong

Sioux Falls Atheists endorse The Black Death course for describing
the impact the Black Death had on the peoples of Europe,
and on the future history of the world.