Watch The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague

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While the story of the Black Death is one of destruction and loss, its breathtaking scope and effects make it one of the most intriguing episodes in human history. Understanding the unfolding of the plague and its aftermath provides a revealing window not only on the medieval world but also on the forces that brought about the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and modernity itself.

The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (19 episodes). The series first aired on November 1, 2016.

The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague is available for streaming on the The Great Courses Signature Collection website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague on demand at Amazon Prime, Amazon, The Roku Channel online.

The Great Courses Signature Collection
1 Season, 19 Episodes
November 1, 2016
Cast: Dorsey Armstrong
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The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague Full Episode Guide

  • In conclusion, reflect on how the economic, social, and political worlds of Europe reinvented themselves to accommodate the deep changes brought about by the plague. Finally, through examples ranging from medieval smallpox to the recent occurrence of Ebola, consider how diseases and pandemics have shaped human societies and individual behavior throughout history and continue to do so today.

  • Chart subsequent occurrences of plague across Europe following the Black Death of the 14th century, culminating with the Great Plague of London of 1665-66. Learn how people developed critical strategies to combat outbreaks, from administrative bodies created to deal with the plague to the phenomena of pesthouses for the sick, plague pits, and quarantines.

  • The social and economic changes brought by the plague were inextricably linked to the sphere of politics. Witness how numerous governmental functions dramatically broke down during the plague, and study how, in the aftermath, many governments attempted to maintain the pre-plague status quo, which was untenable in the new world order.

  • Investigate how the plague initially brought massive loss of labor, administrative manpower, and the tax base, as well as far-reaching disruption of farming. Grasp the process by which economic opportunities for the lower and merchant classes-including women-were transformed, and how those who survived were, in most cases, much wealthier than before.

  • The events of the Black Death inspired some of history€™s greatest literary masterpieces. In this lecture, uncover the range of textual responses to the plague, highlighting William Langland€™s dream-vision poem Piers Plowman and Boccaccio€™s Decameron. Learn how the plague set Geoffrey Chaucer on the path to literary immortality.

  • Religious devotion at the popular level proliferated during the Black Death. Follow the dramatic increase in activities such as religious pilgrimage, the building of chantry chapels, and the veneration of saints. Witness the struggle between the official Church doctrine and popular religious beliefs, as people searched desperately for comfort in their darkest hour.

  • The Black Death dealt serious blows to the institution of the Church. Learn how the plague€™s death toll among the clergy upset the hierarchy and management of religious affairs. Also investigate how the Church€™s failure to affect any cure or relief from the plague led to a weakening of its authority and status.

  • Examine the history of anti-Semitism in medieval Europe and the unfolding of conspiracy theories during the plague that Jews were poisoning the Christian population. Witness how anti-Semitic hysteria led to horrific violence and the execution of Jewish populations, even as both Christian and secular leaders attempted to quell such actions.

  • Delve into the range of psychosocial responses people had to the plague and to the knowledge of its inescapability. Explore the flagellant movement, whose adherents tortured themselves publicly to atone for the sins of the world. On the opposite end, learn about extreme hedonistic responses, from sexual licentiousness to €œchoreomania€-obsessive ritual dancing.

  • Observe how learned minds responded to the plague through the writing and dissemination of plague treatises. Review theories regarding the plague€™s appearance, from astrological conjunctions and weather to those of €œcorrupted€ air, eclipses, and earthquakes. Take account of contemporary sanitation procedures, medical remedies, and the practices of plague doctors.

  • Track the final stages of the plague€™s initial path through 14th-century Europe, from its incursion into Germanic lands to its devastation of Poland and Russia. Study the socioeconomic conditions within Russia, where lack of labor led to a slave-like system of serfdom, and consider psychosocial responses such as the building of €œone-day votive churches.€

  • The Black Death reached Scandinavian countries at different times, by different routes. Follow the plague€™s arrival by ship in Norway, then its movement into Sweden and Denmark, and observe how Scandinavian social customs worsened its toll. Learn also about a unique form of folklore and mythos that arose in Scandinavia in response to the plague.

  • Witness the plague€™s horrific impact at Marseille, and uncover how citizens responded with unusual solidarity. Study the ravages and drastic measures taken at Bordeaux, and see how news of outbreaks sparked violence and the scapegoating of Jews. Grasp the monumental death toll in Paris, whose public reacted with unbridled hedonism, resignation, and numb indifference to the ubiquitous suffering.

  • Explore how the plague traveled by sea across the Mediterranean, invading port cities and then radiating inward. To get a view of the unfolding devastation, study the events in Sicily, Mallorca, and Avignon, highlighting first-person accounts. Assess ways of measuring the plague€™s impact and the difficulty of comprehending the scope of the disaster.

  • Now examine the plague€™s first sustained appearance in Europe, at the Crimean trading port of Caffa. Learn about the Mongol siege of the city that preceded the outbreak, and how the plague moved west with escaping sailors. Follow the spread of the plague to Constantinople, to Italy, and into France and England.

  • In recent years, scholars have reassessed the causes of the Black Death, questioning how it spread through medieval Europe with such astonishing speed and virulence. Here, investigate additional factors that may have contributed to the devastation, such as other diseases, bacteria, and other possible forms of transmission.

  • Explore the medical understanding of plague, as seen in the 6th-century Plague of Justinian, the Black Death of the 1300s, and the 19th-century Third Pandemic. Examine the three predominant varieties of plague, the symptomatology of each, and scientific theories as to the nature and transmission of the disease that ravaged Europe in the 14th century.

  • Begin to contemplate the enormity of the Black Death€™s impact on the medieval world. As context for the harrowing events to come, take account of the state of medieval society on the eve of the plague. In particular, investigate the religious, economic, and political structures of mid-14th-century Europe.