Cause & Effect of the Black Death

The first source that I chose was a contemporary source from September 2015. This source explains the cause of the bubonic plague which was said to be an ancient, flea bacteria found on rats called Yersinia Pestis. According to this article, the bacteria had been around millions of years before the disease had spread. The second source that I chose was a primary source of a letter from 1348 explaining the effects of the plague. A clergy man living in France during the outbreak had written this letter informing his friends the dangers of the plague. If you came in contact with anyone who had the disease, you were determined to catch it, and determined to die. There was no known cure, and worst of all, doctors refused to give any treatment because of the high risk of obtaining the disease.

These two sources relate to each other well because the first source is a cause and the second source is an effect. In the beginning of the letter, the writer gives vivid details of the symptoms of the plague, by saying “men suffer in their lungs and breathing… all who have died thus suddenly have had their lungs infected and have spat blood.” The second paragraph gives further details of two other forms of the sickness with more symptoms such as “swellings appear under both arms… both sexes suffer from swellings in the groin.” All three of these forms are inevitably fatal.

Along with all of the negative effects this letter gives us, it also has a couple of crazy rumors on how the disease was spread. One rumor includes dust that ended up in the water. “Some wretched men have been caught with certain dust… they are accused of having poisoned the water, and men in fear do not drink the water from wells.” Another rumor talks about how the disease could have been spread by the fish and certain spices. “Fish is commonly not eaten, as people say they have been infected by the bad air. Moreover, people do not eat, nor even touch spices, which have not been kept a year… those who have eaten these new spices and even some kinds of sea fish have suddenly been taken ill.” Since people during the outbreak had absolutely no idea how the disease was spread, I thought my contemporary source on the bacteria related well to my primary source and gave a clean explanation on the true reason for the outbreak.

The issue that these two sources raise for me would be that it took years for scientists to figure out the reason for the disease and there is still research. Obviously technology and people’s basic knowledge wasn’t nearly as predominant as it is in today’s world, but there could have been some obvious signs for such a huge outbreak. As a Minnesotan, illnesses occur frequently due to the cold weather, and this disease strikes my interest on what may happen in the future. This bubonic plague wiped out 30-60% of Europe’s population in just a short amount of time, and if something ever happens similar to this, hopefully scientists can use this tragedy as a baseline to find a cure to prevent future outbreaks.





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