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Abstract

The plague organism (Yersinia pestis) killed an estimated 40% to 60% of all people when it spread rapidly through the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe in the fourteenth century: an event known as the Black Death. Previous research has shown, especially for Western Europe, how population losses then led to structural economic, political, and social changes. But why and how did the pandemic happen in the first place? When and where did it begin? How was it sustained? What was its full geographic extent? And when did it really end?

Pandemic Disease in the Medieval World is the first to synthesize the new evidence and research methods that are providing fresh answers to these crucial questions. It was only in 2011, thanks to ancient DNA recovered from remains unearthed in London’s East Smithfield cemetery, that the full genome of the plague pathogen was identified. This single-celled organism probably originated 3000-4000 years ago and has caused three pandemics in recorded history: the Justinianic (or First) Plague Pandemic, around 541-750; the Black Death (Second Plague Pandemic), conventionally dated to the 1340s; and the Third Plague Pandemic, usually dated from around 1894 to the 1930s. This ground-breaking book brings together scholars from the humanities and social and physical sci­ences to address the question of how recent work in genetics, zoology, and epi­de­miology can enable a rethinking of the Black Death's global reach and its larger historical significance. It forms the inaugural double issue of The Medieval Globe, a new journal sponsored by the Program in Medieval Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This issue of The Medieval Globe is published with the support of the World History Center at the University of Pittsburgh.