What are the benefits for medievalists of learning about what was going on in the Americas at the same time? What are the drawbacks of bringing the Americas under the “medieval” umbrella? Consider the existing archaeological periodizations of the Americas as well as the effects on Native peoples today.
What does historical reconstruction art offer that more traditional academic output might not? What compromises must an artist make that a historian writing an article or book might not have to think about or might not accept?
How are medieval women and historical women of colour represented in art you’ve been exposed to, whether in public art, pop culture or textbooks?
Looking through the stories on this website, did anything surprise you about the options women had open to them or the roles women could play in their societies?
Godlewski, Włodzimierz, “Bishops and Kings. The official program of the Pachoras (Faras) Cathedrals”, Between the Cataracts. Proceedings of the 11th International Conference for Nubian Studies Warsaw University 27 August-2 September 2006. Part 1. Main Papers (2008), pp. 263-282.
Villani, Giovanni. “Chronicle.” In John Aberth, The Black Death: The Great Mortality of 1348-1350: A Brief History with Documents, 19-20. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
In this petition, the inhabitants of Caffa ask for money, soldiers, and a bishop. Why do they need each of those things? Why do they turn to the doge of Genoa for help?
At the time when this petition was written, had anyone in Caffa shown symptoms of plague? If so, which symptoms? If not, why did the petition mention “an endless plague of death”?
Compare what this source says about the early transmission of the Black Death with the account of Gabriele de’ Mussis. Based on what you know about modern medical research on plague transmission, which version makes more sense? Based on what you know about medieval ideas about disease and contagion, which version would make more sense to medieval readers?
Compare what this source says about the early transmission of the Black Death with another source from the list of Further Reading – Primary Sources. How are the two accounts similar? How are they different? What do you think the differences imply?
Teaching medieval diseases and pandemics, especially the plague, has become, not surprisingly, more central to courses on medieval history over the last few months. Luckily, the medieval studies community includes many generous and talented colleagues eager to share their expertise and resources. Below you will find some open-access material the Middle Ages for Educators has collected including background material, primary sources, and short lessons on reactions to plague. We also offer more background reading on plague and pandemics in our resources page.
Background on the Plague
You can find some great background about the biology and history of the plague on the Infectious Historians podcast episode entitled “Plagues in Human History,” which can also be found on most major podcasting networks. If your students want to know more about the two major outbreaks, the Justinianic Plague and the Black Death, there are additional episodes on each of them as well. This podcast is co-hosted by Merle Eisenberg and the website has links to additional readings, some of which are open-access.
Jessica Goldberg at UCLA has provided us with her own translation and commentary of the famous 1348 Ordinances of Pistoia. The Ordinances were issued upon the arrival of the plague early in the Spring of 1348 (March or April) and are the city’s response about a month later. Her wonderful translation also includes artwork that really give a unique idea of what was happening in Pistoia when the plague struck.
Merle Eisenberg also uploaded a video, sources, and questions for teaching the Justinianic Plague (c. 541-750 CE). He has provided a mini lesson for teaching students about what its impact may (or may not) have been.
Reactions to Plague
Dan Smail’s video and lesson plan about the effect of the Black Death on a single woman and her family in Marseille is definitely a great way to discuss the individual impact of this disease. It is one thing to think about the mortality rate of a pandemic or its impact on governments, but Smail offers a micro-history that demonstrates how the diseases devastated families, through various other viewpoints such as legal history, gender, and disability studies. He tells a powerful story of the past that has striking resonances for the present.
Abigail Agresta has also written a wonderful, short blog post on the Infectious Historians website that offers a way into how medieval people responded to the outbreak of the Black Death. Like many of us today, there were only so many options that people living in the medieval period had and she offers a source on them plus a short discussion. Her blog post could be a useful interactive exercise to do with your students as another way to teach the outbreak of the Black Death.
1. One way to understand the construction of the lai is to examine the situation of the protagonist, Lanval. What is Lanval’s problem at the beginning of the lai ? in the middle ? at the end?
2. What does the lai tell us about Lanval (e.g. descriptions by the narrator or by other characters)? How does the text show Lanval behaving? Does he behave like his description? (Be able to point to elements in the text to defend your answer.)
3. Analyze the scene where Lanval meets the fée (fairy). Where does it occur? How is the fée described? How does Lanval react? Etc.
4. How is the queen described/presented? (What is she doing at the beginning of the episode? How does she react when she sees him? How does she interact with Lanval?)
5. What are the “stages” of Lanval’s trial? What exactly is he accused of doing? Do you know any (famous) similar stories?
1. How were marriages decided in the Middle Ages (for the wealthy)? Who chose the husband/wife? with what criteria ? What kinds of results might you expect (for either spouse) under such a system?
B. You and the characters
1. How do you react to each of the characters? Is your reaction positive, negative, ambivalent?
2. For each character, make a list of the qualities and actions that explain your reaction.
3. For each character, explain how the narrator characterizes them (what expressions are used in the text). For whom does the narrator have sympathy? In other words, who does the narrator portray positively? negatively? Try to distinguish between a reaction based on your moral system, your ideas about what is right or correct, and how the story actually presents each of the characters.
C. Medieval literature often uses symbols to suggest feelings and ideas (modern literature does too, of course). What symbolic value does each of the objects take on in the lai?