The long arm of 18th century historians has influenced how we view the last 1500 years, not just of plague history but of the periodization of history itself. This post is about the early medieval period as much as the Black Death.

Contagions

I was reading David Mengel’s recent article on plague in Bohemia and he kept referring to this apparently well-known concept, gothic epidemiology. Being the early medieval geek that I am, my first thought was Ostrogoth or Visigoth, and what do they have to do with epidemiology, especially in Bohemia? Feeling that I was clearing missing out on an important concept in plague studies, I looked up the original paper by Faye Marie Getz in 1991.

It turns out that Getz was referring to the genre of Gothic literature that began in the 18th century when Gothic came to mean anything that “offended Enlightenment sensibilities”, anything anti-modern to the new men of the age of reason. ‘Gothic’ architecture gave way to neo-classical architecture, and Roman and Greek revival artistic motifs were everywhere. Yet, Gothic literature typified by Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and the works of Lord Byron and Edgar Allen…

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