Plague debate: methodology and meaning in the retrospective diagnosis of the Black Death

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis



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Debate over the retrospective diagnosis of the fourteenth-century 'Black Death' pandemic and its successive outbreaks is often popularly represented as taking place primarily between proponents of the bubonic paradigm, and the more recent revisionist academics, who ascribe different medical origins to the disease. I argue, on the contrary, that the revisionist discussion forms only part of a long-running series of debates amongst those who diagnose the disease agent as Yersinia pestis. I refer to this conflict as the 'plague debate.' This thesis will analyse how this debate has been influenced chiefly by the construction of the Black Death as an historical event through various modern 'paradigms,' and the inherent interdisciplinary nature of retrospective diagnosis, which renders it subject to methodological and ideological shifts within approaches to the study of both disease and history. I argue that the way in which various disciplines are in dialogue with one another has created a space for diverse interpretations of the medical nature of the Black Death within the 'plague debate.' Furthermore, I consider a possible new perspective in which to in situate the 'plague debate' in rejection of the more popular demarcations. Specifically, how the various interpretations of the retrospective diagnosis of the Black Death are representative of deeper issues concerning the faith of humanity in science, modernity and the future: whether we believe we have 'conquered' our plagues or whether we are still at the whim of natural forces beyond our control.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
StateUnpublished - 2009

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