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BLACK DEATH DOCUMENTARY QUESTIONS

1. What was the status of life in Europe in terms of faith, technology, and trade before the Plague
arrived?
Ans) England was still a predominantly rural and agrarian society; close to 90% of the population lived on the
countryside. Of the major cities, London was in a class of its own, with perhaps as many as 70,000 inhabitants.
Further down the scale were Norwich, with around 12,000 people, and York with around 10,000. The main
export, and the source of the nation's wealth, was wool. Until the middle of the century the export had
consisted primarily of raw wool to cloth makers in Flanders. Gradually though, the technology for cloth making
used on the Continent was appropriated by English manufacturers, and around mid-century started an export
of cloths that would boom over the following decades.
2. Where do historians believe the Plague originated? What were the primary methods of its
transmission?
Ans) Originating in China, it spread west along the trade routes across Europe and arrived on the British Isles
from the English province of Gascony. The plague seems to have been spread by flea-infected rats, as well as
individuals who had been infected on the continent. Rats were the reservoir hosts of the Y. pestis bacteria and
the Oriental rat flea was the primary vector.
Medical historians believe that the plague can spread in several ways but that it was the pneumonic or
respiratory form that accounted for most of the deaths, being easily spread through coughing and sneezing.

3. What changes in society do you think could have played a role in the rapid spread of the Plague?
Ans) As they did not understand the biology of the disease, many people believed that the Black Death was a
kind of divine punishmentretribution for sins against God such as greed, blasphemy, heresy, fornication and
worldliness. By this logic, the only way to overcome the plague was to win Gods forgiveness. Some people
believed that the way to do this was to purge their communities of heretics and other troublemakersso, for
example, many thousands of Jews were massacred in 1348 and 1349.
Some people coped with the terror and uncertainty of the Black Death epidemic by lashing out at their
neighbors; others coped by turning inward and fretting about the condition of their own souls. Some upperclass men joined processions of flagellants that traveled from town to town and engaged in public displays of
penance and punishment: They would beat themselves and one another with heavy leather straps studded
with sharp pieces of metal while the townspeople looked on. These flagellants may have spread the disease
more quickly by performing such practices.
4. Do you think the spread of the Plague was inevitable? If not, what could have been done to prevent
its spread, and by whom?
Ans) I think that the plague spread was inevitable but yes it could have been less devastating if the
practices suggeseted by the Guy de Chaulic have been put on use.

When the Black Death arrived in Avignon in 1348, physicians fled the city, However, Chauliac stayed on,
treating plague patients and documenting symptoms meticulously. He claimed to have been himself infected
and survived the disease. Through his observations, Chauliac distinguished between the two forms of the
disease, the Bubonic Plague and the Pneumonic Plague. As a precautionary measure, he advised Pope
Clement to keep a fire burning continuously in his chamber and to keep visitors out.
According to him, the plague was recognized as being contagious although the agent of contagion was
unknown; as treatment Chauliac recommended air be purified, venesection (bleeding), and healthy diet.
5. What were some of the explanations people gave for what the Plague was and why it had arrived?
Which reason do you think would have made the most sense to you at the time?
Ans) Medical knowledge at the time was helpless in the face of the disease. People did not agree
on what caused it or on how to treat it. Many different explanations were put forward, drawing on
both pre-existing beliefs and actual observations. The most widespread theories were Gods anger
with sinful humanity, the malign influence of comets, the conjunction of planets, and the activities
of demons and devils. Several learned authorities thought tainted air was the cause, since illness
was known to be associated with rotting corpses, the reeking filth, and the fetid mists rising from
swamps. Some argued that exposure to those people already sick, or to objects contaminated by
contact with them, caused infection. At times, sheer human malice was blamed.
6. Why do you think so many Europeans blamed others for the Plague? What does this say about their
understanding of disease?
Ans) As many doctors, officials, and ordinary people admitted that nothing anyone did seemed
to make a difference, people took a number of religious, magical, and practical measures to try to
prevent or cure the plague. These ranged from religious rituals to strict enforcement of existing
sanitary laws to control garbage and urban pollution; from burning the possessions of those who
died of the infection to burning Jews, who could be handy scapegoats; from restrictions on travel
to the use of magical talismans and spells; from bloodletting for the healthy to surgery on the
buboes.
7. In what ways did the Plague alter the relationship between humans and their faith in God? Explain
your answer.
Ans) Because of the societies deep belief in the church, when holy officials became infected and died, peoples
beliefs faltered and they were left in confusion as to why everyone was being punished. They began to believe
the church was somewhat artificial started to revolt against the Feudal System.
The Black Death affected religion in numerous ways. New religious sects formed, such as the Flagellants in
Europe. The Flagellants believed the the Black Death was a punishment form God, and sought to get back into
His good graces by harming themselves, namely in the from of whipping, to represent Jesus' suffering.
The Black Death also drove people away from, while drawing other people closer to traditional religion. Some
people, believing that God had abandoned them to the plague, turned their back on religion. Others, believing
that only God could deliver them from the Plague, strongly embraced religion.
8. How did the Plague affect concepts of authority and social class?

AnsThe bubonic plague dramatically reduced the population count in cities and towns across England, which
in turn created an immediate and ongoing shortage of employees. Lords and land owners had crops that
needed to be harvested, fields that needed to be tended to and properties that needed to be maintained.

The Feudal System that had once kept both the landlords and the peasants in check suddenly disappeared,
and peasants were demanding more pay from their employers, or choosing to work elsewhere where the pay
was better.
Parliament tried desperate to reduce the amount of movement of peasants, and attempted to enforce a law
that would prevent landlords from paying more wages and would prevent the peasants from travelling to find a
better offer. However, this did not work, and for a few decades peasants enjoyed better pay.
The people of this time felt emboldened by the plague, and they were convinced that they had a divine
blessing that went far above anything that the Parliament could say or do. With this feeling came the
confidence to demand more from their day to day lives.
9. What sources have historians used in order to learn more about the Plague? Which of these
sources do you think are the most accurate? Which do you think are the most revealing?
Ans)
10. What were the long-term ramifications of the Plague? How did it transform European society and medical
knowledge?
Ans) Among the most immediate consequences of the Black Death in England was a shortage of farm labour,
and a corresponding rise in wages. The medieval world-view was unable to interpret these changes in terms of
socio-economic development, and it became common to blame degrading morals instead. The landowning
classes saw the rise in wage levels as a sign of social upheaval and insubordination, and reacted with
coercion. In 1349, King Edward III passed the Ordinance of Labourers, fixing wages at pre-plague levels. The
ordinance was reinforced by parliament's passing of the Statute of Labourers in 1351. The labour laws were
enforced with ruthless determination over the following decades.
Jewish Pogroms is one of the first social effects that comes to mind. People needed a scapegoat; they couldn't
explain the plague, and many thought that Jews were poisoning the wells of Europe. This led to further
isolation and extermination of Jewish populations in Europe. Other groups, such as the Roma (what you would
know as "gypsy") were persecuted.

The power of nobility and the church in Europe decreased. This is for a few reasons, one, the people began to
give up hope and turn their back on the church, and two, many clergy members died. Social mobility
increased, and peasants began to gain more power, as they were not as obligated to stay on the land provided
for them, like serfs.
A lot of people would say that the social and economic upheaval caused by the plague caused the
Renaissance. Europe was overpopulated before the plague; after so many cheaply-hired servants died,

landlords and peasants had to compete with each other for jobs, which led to increased economic freedom for
peasants.
Medicine also changed. A shift was seen from alchemy as medicine to something more like the medicine we
would see today.
11. Do you think a disease as devastating as the Plague could spread today? Why or why not?
Ans) The Black Death epidemic had run its course by the early 1350s, but the plague reappeared every few
generations for centuries. Modern sanitation and public-health practices have greatly mitigated the impact of
the disease but have not eliminated it.
It's highly unlikely there would be another large outbreak, simply because we know what causes it and how to
avoid it. Once a real honest-to-goodness small outbreak happened, we would take massive precautions to
handle it, and it would die off. The people infected would be treated before it could spread.