The Black Death Essay

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The Black Death Historical Debate History 108: Birth Europe: Antiquity-14th C The epidemic known as the Black Death is viewed as an unparalleled disaster in human history. Between 1346 and 1353 the Black Death rapidly spread across Europe and claimed the lives of approximately one-third of the population.1The outbreak of the Black Death, or plague is believed to have originated in central Asia along trade routes2 and has been generally attributed to the pathogenic agent known as bacillus Yersinia pestis.3 Although there is a lot of information regarding the Black Death, historians have long debated many questions concerning the topic. One of these questions includes: Was such a catastrophe inevitable given the state of Europe’s population in the 14th century; or was the event a result of other factors? The debate amongst historians regarding this question will be presented in this paper. The population of Europe was growing immensely during the High Middle Ages (1050-1300).4 Some historians argue that this high population exhausted agricultural supplies and in turn led to poor social and living conditions. For this reason they believe that the Black Death was inevitable because reproduction levels had surpassed the limitations of food supply.5 This situation is referred to by some as the Malthusian Crisis. The idea of the Malthusian crisis was put forward by Thomas Malthus in the Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798. Malthus believed that once population became too high, nature would provide necessary “checks” to rebalance the population.6 Malthus and historians who share his view would argue that since the population demands surpassed the agricultural supply leading up to and during the 14th century a crisis consisting of famine and various diseases was inevitable.7 Based on this way of thinking, the Black Death was nature’s way of keeping the

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