Category Archives: Researchers

Colleagues interested in interdisciplinary approaches to the 14th c. crises are invited to present their personal research and their interests in the blog. We will flag these contributions as “researchers” in the field.

Invalidation of early-phase transmission as an epizootic and epidemiological theory

Dear colleagues,

New plague research has just been published with particular importance for the discussion of the early-phase transmission and transmission by proventricular blockage. B.J. Hinnebusch, Senior Investigator at the Laboratory of Zoonotic Pathogens, NIH, NIAID, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, has long been one of the sharpest critics of the early-phase theory of transmission, see, for instance, his article “Biofilm-Dependent and Bio-Film-Independent Mechanisms of using Transmission of Yersinia pestis by Fleas”, Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 954; 2012:  237‒243. In these days, he publishes with co-authors an evidently crucial article on this topic: Hinnebusch, B.J. Bland, D.M., Bosio, C.F., Jarrett, C.O., “Comparative Ability of Oropsylla montana and Xenopylla cheopis Fleas to transmitt Yersinia pestis by two Different Mechanisms” PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases | DOI: 10…1371/journal.pntd.0005276 January 12, 2017: 1-15.

They used fleas of Oropsylla montana provided by two of the central advocates of the early-phase theory, which excludes that different strains of this flea could affect the outcome. The conventional vector of plague ‘par excellence’, Xenopsylla cheopis, was used for comparison. Contrary to earlier assertions by the advocates of the early-phase theory that Oropsylla montana rarely develop proventricular blockage, it was shown to block earlier and surviving longer after becoming blocked than X. Cheopis, and that transmission by blockage was as good as or better than observed for X. cheopis. This (re)confirmed earlier research on the vector capacity of this species of flea (see, e.g., the fully referenced comments in my monograph The Black Death and Later Plague Epidemic in the Scandinavian Countries, 2016: 377, 403, 630, 658).

In this article, the early-phase theory is dismantled as an important or significant means or mechanism of transmission of plague. In a personal communication by email of 01.03.17, Hinnebusch states that “In fact, I think early-phase transmission only has a role in very special circumstances, such as during an epizootic of plague in a dense [rodent] population that is both highly susceptible (LD50< 10) and that routinely develops very high bacteremia levels (>108 to 109 Y. pestis/ml) before death.  High flea density is also a likely precondition, as intermittent challenges from just a few fleas at a time would frequently lead to resistance rather than productive, transmissible disease (bacteremia).”

This also means that early-phase transmission is of no significance in plague epidemics, except perhaps, at the individual level, the occasional transmission of immunity-inducing tiny doses of plague bacteria (that will be easily dealt with by the human immune apparatus). It will also become clear that Hinnebusch et al. corroborate and deepen earlier plague research: it is pointed out that this type of early-phase transmission was identified by the Indian Plague Research Commission (IPRC) in 1907 and that the pioneering studies of Bacot of the IPRC on blockage in fleas IPRC 1914 and 1915, are still tenable and relevant. The bibliography contains studies from the entire 1900s, not least 1940s, which have kept their value as fine research.

Finally, I will point out that my recently published monograph contains a long study of early-phase transmission in Chapter 12: 625-655 (with bibliographic references included in the General Bibliography). Its conclusions and basic analysis agree with this recent study by Hinnebusch et al.

Kind regards,

Ole J. Benedictow,

Emeritus Professor

Introduction – Marcel Keller

I am a PhD student in the department Archaeogenetics of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany. My academic background is Biology (B.Sc./M.Sc.) with specialization in Anthropology and Human Biology. The main project of my PhD is the reconstruction of genomes of Yersinia pestis of both the first (Justinianic Plague) and second pandemic (following the Black Death) in Europe. Additional ancient genomes of Y. pestis are crucial for phylogenetic analyses and allow a more detailed picture of the spatiotemporal distribution of plague.

Introduction – Giuseppe Muci

I’m an archaeologist and third-year PhD candidate in Science for Cultural Heritage at the University of Salento (Lecce, in southern Italy). My main fields of interest are landscape and settlement pattern changes in southern Italy from the Late Antique to the Early Modern period, with a specific focus on the transition between Late Medieval and Modern times. In my analyses of socio-economic dynamics I’m trying to link demographic data mainly collected from fiscal sources and settlements data collectet through archaological surveys in the region; the final aim is to understand if subsistence crises could have played a main role in the 14th century demographic decline . In addition to historical and archaological dataset, I make use of quantitative methods and GIS theoretical modelling to analyse human dynamics and settlement trends. On my page you can find a pair of papers focused on the analysis of demographic trends and agrarian sustainability during the Late Middle Ages in Terra d’Otranto province (


Medieval archaeologist and PhD Fellow in “Science for Cultural Heritage” at the University of Salento, Italy.

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Introduction – Joris Roosen

As a first year PhD-candidate, I am working within the “Coordinating for life” project at the University of Utrecht. The project aims to explain why some societies are successful in preventing the effects of major hazards and buffering threats, or in recovering quickly, while others prove highly vulnerable. My specific sub-project focuses on the subject of the Black Death and the recurring waves of plague in late medieval Europe.

My research aims to look at the institutional framework of three regions in order to ascertain why some regions were able to mitigate and recover quickly from the effects of the Black Death whilst others did not.

The regions I will be investigating are coastal Flanders, Picardy and Norfolk.

Introduction – Alison Atkin

I am a second-year PhD student at the University of Sheffield, in England.  The aim of my PhD project is to apply new theory and methods recently developed in palaeodemography to gain a deeper understanding of mass fatality incidents.  The current focus of this project is identifying the ‘lost’ plague victims from Medieval England.

Using a multi-disciplinary approach, combining demographic data from archaeological examples, along with evidence from contemporary documentary sources, my research project aims to identify episodes of mass mortality as a result of the Black Death in Medieval England, which to date have been mis- or un-identified in the archaeological record – and to discuss changes to burial practices and funerary rights during and after the Black Death.

Introduction – Ted Boronovskis


I am an independent researcher from Perth, Australia who is interested in an as yet unexplained occurrence in the epidemiology of the Bubonic Plague – its apparent disappearance from Western Europe and the Medditeranian basin between AD750  until its reappearance in AD1347, whilst successive waves of epidemics continued in Central Asia and China.

The attached note was published in the medical history newsletter of the Australian & New Zealand society of the History of Medicine (4th series, No 38; Oct. 2012)




Introduction – Linda Ehrsam Voigts

I am retired academic who works primarily with Latin and vernacular medical texts from late medieval England. With Patricia Kurtz I am responsible for Scientific and Medical Writings in Old and Middle English (eVK2), a database on 10,000 texts and prologues searchable from the website of the History of Medicine Division of the (U.S.) National Library of Medicine, and through the Resources link at the home page of the Medieval Academy of America. We have also provided an electronic version of Thorndike and Kibre, Incipits of Medieval Scientific Writings in Latin (eTK) on those websites.
At present I am studying, with Ann Payne of the British Library, an English-language household compendium (including university medical treatises) datable to the reign of Henry VII. The section of recipes for members of the royal family contains many recipes, both prophylactic and therapeutic, against the plague.

Linda Ehrsam Voigts

Curators’ Professor of English Emerita
University of Missouri-Kansas City
Kansas City, MO y4110


Rainer Schreg

archaeologist researcher at Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz - lecturer at Tübingen university

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Rainer Schreg – archaeologist

My research interests are in the environmental and social history of past cultural and ecological changes especially within rural cultural landscapes.  Whereas most of my studies deal with villages in medieval Germany, I am also involved in field projects  in Neolithic chert extraction at the Southern Germany, on the medieval landscape in southwestern Crimea and on pre-Columbian and colonial sites in Panama, lower Central America. All these research project highlight specific situations of human-environment interaction.  Periods of fast change are especially informative for a reconstruction of the complex interaction of different drivers.

The 14th century is such an instructive situation of cultural change. It is however no situation of collapse. At least it is no collapse nor from a European or national perspective nor from a rather long-term perspective. The situation may be quite different if we focus on the level of families or small settlements. The 14th c. is an outstanding example, when dealing with an archaeology of crises as it highlights many heuristic problems.

In two articles I dealt with some theoretical aspects:

  • R. Schreg, Die Krisen des späten Mittelalters: Perspektiven, Potentiale und Probleme archäologischer Krisenforschung. In: F. Daim/D. Gronenborn/R. Schreg (Hrsg.), Strategien zum Überleben. RGZM-Tagungen 11 (Mainz 2011)  197-214 (
  • R. Schreg, Feeding the village – Reflections on the ecology and resilience of medieval rural economy. In: J. Klápště (Hrsg.), Processing, Storage, Distribution of Food – Food in Medieval Rural Environment. Ruralia 8 (Turnhout: Brepols 2011) 301-320.

Besides these rather theoretical reconsiderations my interest in the 14th century comes from two ongoing projects on medieval settlement formation: (1) the abandoned settlement of Würzbach in the Black forest and (2) a detailed study of three villages at the Stubersheimer Alb (part of the Suabian Alb north of Ulm).

As I am mainly engaged in medieval archaeology (or even historical archaeology in its European definition) I am especially interested in the interrelation of artefactual, written and pictorial evidence and on interdisciplinary research bringing together sciences and humanities.

I am working at the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz, a time-honoured archaeological research institute covering all periods from the palaeolithic up to the early modern period. I also teach at the Universities of Mainz and Tübingen.

Currently I am also experimenting with an archaeological blog, dealing with various topics mainly from critical and environmental archaeology.
For more information on my person see: and

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist researcher at Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz - lecturer at Tübingen university

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Introduction – Fabian Crespo

I am a biological anthropologist interested in human evolutionary immunology. My               primary research interest is to study the potential role of past pathogenic experiences (i.e.: Black Death)  in shaping the immune responses in human populations. Since 2007, I am studying and analyzing the differential expression of immune proteins (cytokines) in human populations, and establishing the potential usefulness of these proteins as markers for future studies of health and human evolutionary history significance. We can expect that protective immune alleles and proteins will show an increased frequency still after the epidemic event is declined or eliminated, and this should be understood as a legacy of that epidemic event. Moreover, we can suggest that if there was an “immunological storm” involved in the immune response during the epidemic event, today’s populations (descendants of those populations exposed to the long lasting pathogenic insult) will still reflect a strong inflammatory response, and one potential consequence (“legacy”) of that is an over-expression of autoimmune and/or chronic inflammatory diseases. Currently, my research agenda deals with an interdisciplinary approach between experimental immunology and bioarchaeological data.

I am looking forward to participating in and following this network that will give me the great opportunity to gain a better and more holistic understanding of the Black Death pandemic.

Introduction – Sharon DeWitte

I am a biological anthropologist in the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Carolina. I specialize in paleodemography, paleoepidemiology, and human osteology, and for several years, the focus of my research has been the Black Death.  I am particularly interested in the biological and social factors that affect risks of mortality during epidemics and how epidemics, such as the Black Death, have shaped human biology and demography. I have investigated the mortality patterns of the Black Death using hazard models and skeletal samples from London. Thus far, I’ve found that despite the very high mortality levels of the epidemic, the disease behaved similarly to non-epidemic causes of death by targeting certain individuals, i.e. the elderly and those already in poor health. I am currently examining the context of the emergence of the Black Death (including the effects of famine), and the ways in which the selective mortality of the epidemic affected health and longevity in the post-epidemic population. I am also interested in the molecular biology of the cause of the Black Death and the co-evolution between pathogens and humans in general.

Introduction – Ann Carmichael

I am an historian of medicine and infectious diseases currently finishing a monograph on morbidity and mortality in Sforza-era Milan. While I have written article-length studies involving analysis of fourteenth-century texts and the Black Death, my principal inquiry involves analysis of early civic mortality registers. Secondarily, I am concerned with how we can connect plague experience to general Renaissance political and social history. Because my original training was in medicine, I have long worked on interdisciplinary topics pertinent to this site, but in a slightly later historical period. I focus on urban plague experience and use archival sources.

Introduction – Geneviève Dumas

Dear all,

My name is Geneviève Dumas, professor at University of Sherbrooke, Québec , Canada. My interests range from health history to science and technology around the Mediterranean especially in the urban context.

My research on plague in Montpellier will be published in several chapters of my upcoming book intitled: Santé et Société à Montpellier à la fin du Moyen Âge.

I’m looking forward to exchanging with all of you on this topic.





Introduction – Monica Green

I’m a historian of medieval medicine and also global health. I have been involved the past few years in trying to find ways to connect the narratives of the history of human health that are now emerging from the historicist sciences (bioarcheology and genomics, broadly writ) and traditional historical methods. I have twice conducted a postdoctoral seminar on medieval health and disease at the Wellcome Library in London. My interest in the Black Death is particularly to take the new scientific findings and use them as a foundation for examining the Black Death as a pandemic that affected many regions of Eurasia and North Africa, rather than privileging only its effects in Europe.  I believe, indeed, that both plague and leprosy in the medieval world can be used paradigmatically to study many other issues in global health history.

My latest publication is Monica H. Green, “The Value of Historical Perspective,” in The Ashgate Research Companion to the Globalization of Health, ed. Ted Schrecker (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2012), pp. 17-37. I also work on many non-Black Death related topics in the history of medicine, most extensively now a general history of 12th-century medicine and the School of Salerno.

I am the founder and list manager of MEDMED-L, a listserv for scholars interested in all aspects of premodern history of health and disease.  (To register for MEDMED-L, go to the Web interface page:, click on “Subscribe or Unsubscribe” and follow directions from there.)

Justin Stearns – Contagion in Muslim and Christian Thought

I am assistant professor at New York University – Abu Dhabi. My interest in the Black Death is primarily Muslim and Christian intellectual and social responses to the plague. I have written a book comparing Muslim and Christian understandings of contagion in Iberia(, as well as a short review article on religious responses to the plague
( and continue to work on the plague in the Muslim world.


My interest in the Black Death is primarily Muslim and Christian intellectual and social responses to the plague. I have written a book comparing Muslim and Christian understandings of contagion in Iberia(, as well as a short review article on religious responses to the plague ( and continue to work on the plague in the Muslim world.

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