In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Plague and its Consequences

  • Introduction
  • Collections of Papers

Renaissance and Reformation Plague and its Consequences
Samuel Kline Cohn, Monica O'Brien
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 November 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 March 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0062


Although the character of the disease has stirred much controversy and continues to be the subject of scientific and historical investigations, the consequences of the Black Death and plagues—demographic, economic, social, and cultural—have embroiled historians in debate for a century or more. Some historians have seen the Black Death as a sharp turning point, accounting for many subsequent events and trends in Western civilization, even those that occurred many years afterward, such as the Reformation. Others have downplayed the Black Death’s effects, seeing them at best as only accelerating trends already well in motion, originating with developments such as urbanization that reach back to the 13th century. Nonetheless, the question of the Black Death’s impact on history has concerned historians across a broad range of disciplines—demography, economics, religious studies, and psychology—employing different methods and sources. These are some of the subjects covered in this article alongside others, including the Black Death’s impact on popular revolt, women, literature, and art. The epidemiological character of the Black Death and its medical history are covered in the Oxford Bibliographies in Renaissance and Reformation article “Black Death and Plague: The Disease and Medical Thought.”

Collections of Papers

These collections illustrate the multidisciplinary character of plague studies. They bring together specialists across a wide spectrum of disciplines, from the medical sciences to literary studies. Some of these collections are regionally based, such as Bisgaard and Søndergaard 2009 on northern Europe, Ormrod and Lindley 1996 on England, Académie Royale de Médecine de Belgique / Koninklijke Academie voor Geneeskunde 1999 on the Low Countries, and Assessorato Alla Cultura e alle Belle Arti 1979 on Venice. Bowsky 1971; Lehfeldt 2005; Paravicini Bagliani and Santi 1998; Williman 1982; and Engelmann, et al. 2018 extend across Europe, and in some instances into the Middle East, North Africa, and India. Slack 2012 provides a valuable overview of plague over the centuries.

  • Académie Royale de Médecine de Belgique / Koninklijke Academie voor Geneeskunde. De Pest in de Nederlanden: Medisch historische Beschouwingen 650 Jaar na de Zwarte Dood. Academia regia Belgica medicinae, Dissertationes, Series historica 7. Brussels: Koninklijke Academie voor Geneeskunde van België, 1999.

    Evaluates medical aspects of the disease along with its social, economic, and demographic consequences from the Black Death to the 17th century.

  • Assessorato Alla Cultura e alle Belle Arti. Venezia e la peste, 1348–1797. Comune di Venezia. Venice: Marsillo, 1979.

    A wide-ranging set of essays on demographic effects, government regulations, significance of health board policies, and consequences for art, architecture, and religion over five centuries in Venice or the Veneto.

  • Bisgaard, Lars, and Leif Søndergaard, eds. Living with the Black Death. Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2009.

    Ten articles on plague patterns, ecology, labor markets, plague saints, Scandinavian art; concentrates on plague in northern Europe from the Black Death to the plague of 1711 in Copenhagen.

  • Bowsky, William, ed. The Black Death: A Turning Point in History? New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971.

    A lively mix of translated sources and selected essays, with a wide variety of historical studies from England to Egypt, mainly emphasizing the plague as a turning point for better or worse; includes studies of demography, economy, morals, persecution of the Jews, prices, land tenure, and government.

  • Engelmann, Lukas, John Henderson, Christos Lynteris, eds. Plague and the City. London: Routledge, 2018.

    Explores the relationships between and discourses surrounding plague and urban environments. Looks at cities in Europe, Morocco, and India and considers measures that attempted to control the disease from the medieval to the modern periods.

  • Lehfeldt, Elizabeth A. The Black Death. Problems in European Civilization. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.

    Abridgements of articles and book chapters by twenty 20th-century historians, mainly published since 1990, covering medicine, epidemiology, art, economics, popular reactions, and revolt.

  • Ormrod, Mark, and Phillip Lindley, eds. The Black Death in England. Stamford, CT: Paul Watkins, 1996.

    In contrast to Williman 1982, these essays stress the significance of the Black Death and plagues of the 14th century as accelerating social, religious, political, and architectural change; embodies new archival research.

  • Paravicini Bagliani, Agostino, and Francesco Santi, eds. The Regulation of Evil: Social and Cultural Attitudes to Epidemics in the Late Middle Ages. Florence: Sismel, 1998.

    Concentrates on the Black Death and plagues to the 15th century, medical literature, social consequences, and the law, with comparisons to alchemy and leprosy.

  • Slack, Paul. Plague: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/9780199589548.001.0001

    An overview of plague through the centuries, covering subjects including the causes of plagues and their impacts on society.

  • Williman, Daniel, ed. The Black Death: The Impact of the Fourteenth-Century Plague; Papers of the Eleventh Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies. Binghamton, NY: Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1982.

    Wide-ranging and interdisciplinary analysis of the Black Death from England to the Middle East, concentrating on culture, literature, and attitudes; de-emphasizes the Black Death as a turning point, arguing that it only hastened trends already in train from the 13th century or earlier.

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