Teaching Module

Children during the Black Death


  1. Arrizabalaga, Jon. "Facing the Black Death: Perceptions and Reactions of University Medical Practitioners." In Practical Medicine from Salerno to the Black Death, 237-88. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
    This article examines the responses to the Black Death by doctors in the Western Mediterranean. Arrizabalaga studies the plague tractates written by university-trained physicians to determine how they viewed the disease and what could be done about it. He presents their learned discussion on the causes, symptoms, prevention, and cure of the disease, and demonstrates that they did not hesitate to confront the new epidemic with their intellectual tools, such as their university training, clinical experience, and the ancient and medieval Greek, Roman, and Arab authors at their disposal.
  2. Benedictow, Ole J. The Black Death 1346-1353: The Complete History. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer, 2004.
    Benedictow re-examines medieval chronicle evidence and modern historians' demographic studies of the epidemic across Europe to argue for a new and higher mortality rate of 55% during the Black Death. His work is useful for its detailed discussion of the spread of the disease and its map. Benedictow maintains the traditional view that the Black Death was caused by bubonic plague.
  3. Cohn, Samuel Kline, Jr. The Black Death Transformed: Disease and Culture in Early Renaissance Europe. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
    Cohn has done the most in recent scholarship to overturn the long-held view that the Black Death was caused by bubonic plague. Comparing the medieval to modern evidence of plague in India, Cohn argues that because of its high mortality, exceptionally fast spread and transmission, and the apparent immunity gained by survivors, the disease of the Black Death must have been some other disease. Cohn also argues that doctors were helpless and hopeless during the Black Death, but gained a new "Renaissance" confidence in their abilities to prevent and treat the disease after its second return.
  4. Wray, Shona Kelly. "Boccaccio and the Doctors: Medicine and Compassion in the Face of Plague." Journal of Medieval History 30 (2004), 301-22.
    This article proposes that Boccaccio's descriptions in the Introduction to the Decameron which detail the activities of Florentines during the plague of 1348 are repetitions of medical advice present in plague tractates written in Italy during the epidemic. Boccaccio's Introduction can be read as a condemnation of doctors' advice to flee the ill, since to follow their advice for the preservation of one's own health would lead to the destruction of society. The article counters recent views of the doctors' response to argue that their tractates demonstrate professionalism and practicality in the face of the devastating epidemic. Using wills of medical practitioners in Bologna, it provides evidence that they remained at their posts during the epidemic.
  5. Ziegler, Philip. The Black Death. New York: Harper, 1969; reprint 1971.
    This is an older work that has remained a useful textbook for the classroom. Ziegler tells the history of the epidemic across Europe largely through chronicles and legislation produced during the Black Death. It presents detailed local descriptions, especially well done for England, and examines the responses and effects of the plague on the demography, economy, art, and psychology of the medieval European people.

How to Cite This Source

Shona Kelly Wray, "Children during the Black Death," in Children and Youth in History, Item #167, https://cyh.rrchnm.org/items/show/167 (accessed August 10, 2021).