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Example research essay topic: Addison Wesley Black Death - 1,962 words

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... ges to pre-plague prices. These laws proved unenforceable which meant that as landlord's positions deteriorated, those of the peasants took a turn for the better. The decline in the number of peasants "accelerated the process of converting labor services to rents, freeing peasants form the obligations of servile tenure and weakening the system of manorialism" (Spielvogle 301). This allowed for peasant mobility and increased freedom, though they were still limited economically by newly implemented government taxes paired with the lord's constant attempts to impose more wage restrictions.

This state of instability motivated some peasants, no longer tied to the land they worked, to move to the city to seek financial security; the result was a high level of unemployment. The many that did stay to work the land, however, found a cheap land for sale, much improved market and a thinned population of farmers with whom to compete. Enterprising peasants bought large tracts of land, hire others to work for them, and do very well in the process. High labor costs promised big rewards to the inventors of labor-saving devices which resulted the late Middles Ages becoming a period of impressive labor-saving devices. Employers attempted to counteract higher wages by using these new machines and techniques to manipulate the available recourses as well as the use of more capital for labor. Besides farming machinery and methods, other notable inventions of the time were the Johann Gutenberg's printing press in 1453, improved firearms as well as bigger ships able to stay on the sea longer with fewer crew required.

Those who survived the plague found themselves adopting careers which were in high demand, such as doctors and craftsmen, which suddenly achieved status unknown to the professions before. The training required to become a such a professional sharply decreased as life expectancies dropped from 35 - 40 years in the mid 14 th century to 20 years during the onslaught of the plague and the immediate years which followed. (Herlihy 42) In the later years following the plague, an sharp inflation took place until about 1375, whereby the prices of staple items, such as wheat, rose dramatically, costing up to four times more than they had pre-plague. After this period of instability, the European peasants, though still declining in numbers due to the aftershock effects of the plague, experienced a rise in the standard of living. The riches Spain brought back from its colonies in the New World spread quickly throughout all of European society and spurred an economic revival that would far outrun even the best times of the Middle Ages. SOCIAL The effect on peasant society created by the plague was chaotic and life altering. Whole towns and villages died off or were abandoned, as were livestock and pets.

Those infected were shut up in their homes all alone and relatives of the sick were highly encouraged (and usually forced) to leave them to fend for themselves. This constant threat of isolation and abandonment caused great fear and depression upon the population, as family members were left to die alone, and those who lived did so in fear of catching the horrible disease. This intense fear of the unknown caused much tension and fear among people, even within families, as no one knew who to trust or if speaking to someone would prove fatal. When a family member did catch the plague, the rest of the family was evacuated. Watchmen would put a large red cross across their doors and patrol the area to keep people away.

Rich and poor were treated alike once they contracted the plague, as one witness at Avignon relates in 1348: [Sick] relatives were cared for not otherwise than dogs. They threw them their food and drink by the bed, and then they fled the household. Finally, when they died, strong rustics came from the mountains of Provence, miserable and poor and foul-tempered, who are called gators. At least, in return for big pay, they carried the dead to burial. No relatives, no friends showed concern for what might be happening. No priest came to hear the confession of the dying, or to administer the sacraments to them.

People cared only for their own health [and that of their families]. It even happened that every day a dead rich man was carried to the grave with only a little light and by ruffians-none else followed the corpse but these. (Herlihy 62) Not all families abandoned their kin once infected. Some tried to hide the fact from the Board of Health and patrolling officers, though the punishment for doing so was drastic. By the 15 th century, isolated hospitals were built in which infected individuals would go to await death.

Those who entered the "pesthouses" rarely emerged, and after death would be buried in mass graves, often in unconsecrated ground. While many merchant or wealthy families had the resources to pick up and move to the countryside away from all he sickness, the peasants had nowhere to go and thus contracted very quickly and died in greater numbers. The peasants also died in greater numbers as it was often them who lived in the tightly packed slums, a veritable extermination camp for all those who lived there. Those who fled infected towns or villages were often reduced to crime, such as the looting of houses, to survive.

Even those who did not become infected faced the immediate threat of famine, as all livestock were banned from populated areas (since they were thought to spread the plague at first); this forced many to eat their family pets to survive. As society was undergoing a period of intense preoccupation with disease, death and for some, famine, culture slowed to a veritable standstill. People were too busy fearing for their lives to focus on enriching them. The paintings and sculptures of the plague period were dominated by images of the horror and fear of the time. Skeletons, death and demons were often the focus of these works of art; this indicates that everyone was affected by the plague. Even tombstones, usually reserved for expressions of peace, had macabre scenes of dancing skeletons and the devil depicted upon them.

This again points to the fact that the Church was losing their authoritative and influencing role on society as this sort of "art" would not have been permitted under previous circumstances. Schools were also affected by the plague; the result was a shift in the curriculum. English was experiencing a revival in schools, in place of Latin or French, though many schools closed as a result of lack of teachers as well as students. Four of the thirty European universities disappeared due to lack of qualified teaching scholars. One cannot describe the effects of the Black Plague on Europe without addressing the great years of renewed energy and creativity which followed the plague; the Renaissance.

One would think that with all the panic and terror, piles of corpses, and bloody massacres associated with the "calamitous fourteenth century", Europe would have experienced a grim, depressing and melancholic time following the plague. Instead, a marked rebirth period, or "Renaissance" took place in the years which followed: a time of optimism, hope, new ideas and the rebuilding of culture based on Greco-Roman world, was born in Italy and spread throughout the rest of Europe. During this time, Roman law and writing were re-discovered. Greek and Roman classics were dusted off in musty libraries and there was a growing excitement for learning. A new kind of education also developed, quite similar to that in ancient Rome, which included university courses devoted to Greek and Roman classics, history, moral philosophy and literary compositions. A new way of thinking called "humanism" also developed, which focused more on affairs of humankind than on God.

A new social ideal of man developed which concentrated on the "well-rounded personality and universal person" who was capable of achievements in many areas of life. Art became very important during this time, as painters and sculptors (previously viewed simply as artisans) became well-known celebrities. Incredible cathedrals (such as the Dome of Florence Cathedral), palaces, libraries, sculptures (such as the David by Michaelangelo) and paintings (Isabella d'Este by Leonardo da Vinci) were created which are still admired and adored today, as the focus was upon precision and beauty. Music also changed as Renaissance singers began to combine melodies, voices (soprano or alto), and instruments into single musical works. Opera was born, as well as a new method of printing music, opening the doors for music to be loved and studied more than ever before.

One must note that these general characteristics of the Renaissance applied primarily to the upper classes, though they did have a significant impact on the peasants, especially those who lived in the cities where so many of the intellectual and artistic accomplishments of the period were most visible. (Spielvogle 327) One must not think that the peasants of England who survived the plague simply escaped with a sigh of relief and attempted to reinstate their lives as they had existed before the Plague. The Plague provided a hands-on learning experience which Europe never forgot. Many would say that the Black Death "did its work as it taught the survivors to become more prudent." (Huppert ix) Never again did they let allow themselves the luxury of multiplying again to the point of outstripping their resources as dramatically as they had pre plague. To forestall famine, peasants learned to control population growth. Against epidemics, they learned to enforce ruthless quarantines which allows the pestilence to "die out." In time, vaccines were developed to help treat and prevent outbreaks of disease. The plague elicited a social response that protected the European countryside from comparable disasters until the present day. (Huppert ix) The Black Plague of the 1300 s was an event which altered the state and culture of Europe forever, particularly the peasants, although not necessarily solely in a negative way.

The plague, while a tragedy because it killed millions of people, was also a sort of blessing in disguise as it made way for one of the most cultured and prosperous times since the Roman Empire. Europe was an overpopulated, rather uncultured place still in the shadows of the Dark Ages which perhaps required an earth-shattering crisis to give it a fresh start, with new ideas, perspectives and goals. There is no doubt that the plague was one of the most influential events in the transition from medieval to modern-day Europe, and certainly no other event altered so many different aspects of the society and culture as it did. Some historians even claim that the plague may have delayed European colonization of the North American continent by several centuries. The plague is a terrific, and perhaps rare, example of how a terrible tragedy can actually benefit society in the long run. APPENDIX I Stearns, Peter N. , Donald R.

Schwartz and Barry K. Beyer, World History, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, New York City, 1989. APPENDIX II Death, George, The Black Death, Weybright And Talley, New York City, 1976. APPENDIX III Platt, Colin, King Death, UCL Press, London, 1996.

WORK CITED Gottfried, Robert S. , The Black Death, The Free Press, New York City, 1983. Platt, Colin, King Death, UCL Press, London, 1996. BIBLIOGRAPHY Death, George, The Black Death, Weybright And Talley, New York City, 1976. Colin, Michael W. , The Black Death In The Middle East, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1977. Gottfried, Robert S. , The Black Death, The Free Press, New York City, 1983. Platt, Colin, King Death, UCL Press, London, 1996.

Stearns, Peter N. , Donald R. Schwartz and Barry K. Beyer, World History, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, New York City, 1989. Ziegler, Philip, The Black Death, The Penguin Group, London, 1969


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