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Abstract

The historiography of the Black Death includes a debate as to the exact epidemiology of the pathogen that struck Europe in 1348. Various historians have chimed in as to what, exactly, may have been the root cause of the pestilence – with theories ranging from bubonic plague to anthrax or influenza. There is also a question as to whether this debate is even relevant to the study of the Black Death – whether a confirmed medical diagnosis can illuminate a new understanding of the pestilence, or if the epidemiological debate only serves to obfuscate the Black Death’s greater historical consequences. This paper argues that the lived experience of the body is an important and insufficiently explored, sector of historical inquiry. The presentation, treatment, and attitudes associated with a specific disease are effected by its biology. Understanding the epidemiology of that disease is therefore integral to understanding a culture’s reactions to its incidence.

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