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Abstract

This essay introduces the inaugural issue of The Medieval Globe, “Pandemic Disease in the Medieval World: Rethinking the Black Death”. It suggests that the history of the pathogen Yersinia pestis, as it has now been reconstructed by molecular biology, allows for an expanded definition of the Second Plague Pandemic. Historiography of the Black Death has hitherto focused on a limited number of vector and host species, and on Western Europe and those parts of the Islamicate world touching the Mediterranean littoral. Biological considerations suggest the value of a broadened framework, one that encompasses an enlarged range of host species and draws on new archeological, genetic, and historical researches to look for the presence of plague in the premodern Indian Ocean basin and East Africa, areas where it has previously not been suspected.