Monica H. Green on the Black Death and the Global History of Disease


Click on the images below to open the gallery and see them full-size. For a brief commentary on the difficulties of sourcing images that depict the medical effects of the mid-fourteenth-century wave of plague firsthand, see this article in NPR, which quotes Dr. Green.

Welcome to the sixth episode of the Global History Podcast. This is the first segment of our new mini-series, ‘Global Histories of Health, Medicine, and Disease in the Early Modern World’. We’ve decided that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it hopefully could be relevant and helpful to speak with several scholars about disease, health, and medicine in the past in a global perspective, as well as the potential relevance of these histories in the present. 

To start us off, we’re pleased to welcome Dr Monica H. Green, Independent Scholar and an elected Fellow of The Medieval Academy of America, whose research career has spanned from the histories of women’s medicine in medieval Europe to the global history of the Black Death and beyond.

Some of her key works include the inaugural volume of The Medieval Globe, called Pandemic Disease in the Medieval World: Rethinking the Black Death,  which she edited, as well as her 2018 article ‘Putting Africa on the Black Death Map: Narratives from Genetics and History‘. Coming up, she’ll be publishing an article in Centaurus called ‘Emerging Diseases, Re-emerging Histories’. She’ll also be speaking in a public webinar of the Medieval Academy of America this Friday, the 15th of May, at 1-3 PM Eastern Daylight Time, called “The Mother of All Pandemics: The State of Black Death Research in the Era of Covid-19”. You can join the session via zoom, and if you aren’t able to listen live, it will also be recorded and posted online. In the longer term, Dr. Green is working on a book project about the global history of the Black Death.

This week, Chase spoke with Dr. Green over skype about the global history of disease. The conversation focused on the global black death, but also addressed ways in which historians and scientists can collaborate in writing global histories of disease, queried at what point a disease can be called global, and discussed the role of colonization and trade in spreading disease. While the Black Death of the mid-fourteenth-century is chronologically located in the medieval period, its effects were long-lasting, and many of the points Dr. Green makes about the global history of disease more broadly can be applied to many time periods, including the early modern.

If you have any thoughts, questions, or comments about this episode, or would like to pitch us an idea for a new episode, feel free to email us at, or send us a message on our website’s contact formfacebooktwitter, or instagram. And if you’d like to listen to more segments in this series on ‘Global Histories of Health, Medicine, and Disease in the Early Modern World’, click here or listen to the playlist on Spotify.

IMAGE 1 and COVER IMAGE: Piérart dou Tielt (miniaturist), Gilles li Muisis (author), Antiquitates Flandriae (tome 2), fol. 24 v, Peste à Tournai, en 1349. 1349-1352. Materials: Parchment, ink, paint. Dimensions: 273 mm x 205 mm. Bibliothèque royale de Belgique. © KIK-IRPA, Brussels. Downloaded from Belgian Art Links and Tools.

IMAGE 2: ‘Maximum-likelihood tree of modern and ancient genomes of Y. pestis‘, adapted by Monica H. Green, in Zhemin Zhou et al, ‘The EnteroBase user’s guide, with case studies on Salmonella transmissions, Yersinia pestis phylogeny, and Escherichia core genomic diversity‘, Genome Research 30 (2020), pp. 138-152. Open Access Article.

IMAGE 3: Saint Sebastian Interceding for the Plague Stricken. Creator: Josse Lieferinxe (French, active 1493-1505). Period: 1497-1499 (Renaissance). Medium: oil painting on wood. Accession Number: 37.1995. Dimensions: height: 32 3/16. Width: 21 13/16 in. (81.8 x 55.4 cm). Place of Origin: Provence, France. “St. Sebastian was a Roman military officer martyred about AD 300 by being shot full of arrows and then clubbed to death. He was prayed to for protection against the plague. This painting depicts one instance of his intercession. According to legend, this event occurred long after the saint’s death, during an outbreak of the plague in 7th-century Pavia, Italy. Here, just as a victim is to be buried, a grave attendant is struck by the disease. The plague-or Black Death-devastated Europe for centuries, and the painting’s viewers would have known its horrors. St. Sebastian, pierced with arrows, kneels before God to plead on behalf of humanity, while an angel and a demon battle in the sky. The artist was never in Italy and based the appearance of Pavia on that of Avignon. In 1497, Lieferinxe contracted with the Confraternity of St. Sebastian to paint an altarpiece dedicated to their patron saint in the church of Notre-Dame-des-Accoules (now destroyed) in Marseille, France. Six other panels from this altarpiece are now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Johnson Collection), the Museo di Palazo Venezia in Rome, and the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. For more information, see the article by Melissa R. Katz, ‘Preventative Medicine: Josse Lieferinxe’s Retable Altar of St. Sebastian as a Defense Against Plague in 15th Century Provence.’ Interfaces 26 (2006-7): 59-82.” The Walters Art Museum. Creative Commons License.

IMAGE 4: The Doctor (or Physician), from The Dance of Death. Artist: Designed by Hans Holbein the Younger (German, Augsburg 1497/98–1543 London). Printmaker: Hans Lützelburger (German, died Basel, before 1526). Date: ca. 1526, published 1538. Medium: Woodcut. Dimensions: sheet: 2 5/8 x 1 15/16 in. (6.6 x 4.9 cm). Accession Number: 19.57.26. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Public Domain.

IMAGE 5: The port of Marseille during the plague of 1720. Etching by J. Rigaud (1681-1754) after M. Serre (1658-1733). Lettering: “Vüe de l’hostel de ville de Marseille et d’une partie du port dessiné sur le lieu pandant la peste arrivee en 1720. J. Rigaud inv. sculpsit.” Print: etching; platemark 24 x 48 cm. Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

IMAGE 6: The plague of Florence in 1348, as described in Boccaccio’s Decameron. Etching by L. Sabatelli (1772-1850), after himself. Print: etching; platemark. 65.7 x 86.5 cm. Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

IMAGE 7: Robert Koch and Richard Pfeiffer working in a laboratory, investigating the plague in Bombay. Photograph attributed to Captain C. Moss, 1897. In Captain C. Moss, fl. ca. 1897, ‘Plague Visitation, Bombay, 1896-97‘ (The Bombay plague epidemic of 1896-1897: work of the Bombay Plague Committee), fol. 9. Lettering: “Foreign scientists. Professors Koch and Pfeiffer.” Photograph: photoprint, albumen; Dimensions: 10.6 x 7.6 cm. Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

IMAGE 8: A group comprising doctors, health and public officials gathered on a street in Bombay about to begin the day’s work, during an outbreak of plague. Photograph, 1896/1897. Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

IMAGE 9: A twentieth-century artist’s depiction of a physician wearing a plague preventive costume in Marseille in 1720. Lettering: “Costume worn by doctors during an outbreak of plague Marseilles, 1720.” Watercolour, 20th century. Dimensions: 58.9 x 21.9 cm. Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

3 thoughts on “Monica H. Green on the Black Death and the Global History of Disease

  1. This has been my favorite episode so far. I listened to it twice at work because Dr. Green is such an engaging speaker who really conveys her passion and fascination with the subject. I imagined that the Black Death would be a rather dry topic, but not so! Thanks for putting this together. It is of course a timely series and has given me new perspectives on the current pandemic.


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