Tag Archives: Researchers

Introduction – Herbert J. Mattie

I am an independent art historian and exhibition curator in Leiden, the Netherlands. Since I curated an exhibition about epidemics through history in 2001, visual imagery of the plague has my special interest. Within this discipline, the depictions of masked plague doctors are a niche subject that, although marginal by itself, has close ties to many aspects of the plague.

Contrary to a widely held belief, most historians now assume that a plague doctor in a full-body suit that included facial covering, was at most a very exceptional phenomenon. There are no reliable written sources that support the existence of a beak-shaped mask.
This leaves us with art-historical questions about visual, cultural, and historical influences and backgrounds, that can be summarized as: how can we interpret the iconology of the plague doctor images from the 17th and 18th century?

Naturally, this topic cannot be discussed without also considering their relationship to historical reality; therefore, a substantial part of my research has moved in that direction. It is interesting to note that plague doctor images have become so ubiquitous that they tend to block our view on the medical PPE that has been used through the ages, and, in a broader sense, on conceptions about contagion and protective measures in the early modern period.

In 2022 I made a small pop-up exhibition in the context of the Leiden – European City of Science event, I hope to develop this further into a larger exhibition about plague imagery and PPE in general.
In the meantime I run a website about the same subject, under the title  ‘Doctor Schnabel’s Plague Museum’.
I recently published an article about the earliest sources that mention a plague suit in the Journal for the History of Medicine and Health.

Herbert J. Mattie

Art historian and artist in The Netherlands. Exhibition curator, imagery of the plague, crossroads of arts and sciences.

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Introduction – Gunnar Neumann

I am a PhD student at the Department of Archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, soon moving to the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

My research focus are ancient pathogens in western Eurasia and their evolutionary history. Among others, I work on Yersinia pestis from the Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age until late medieval times. 


Gunnar Neumann

PhD student at the Department of Archaeogenetics of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena

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Ole Benedictow – Introduction & new publication

Dear all,

My monograph The Black Death and Later Plague Epidemics in the Scandinavian Countries: Perspectives and Controversies, Berlin: De Greuter, pp. 736, has just appeared: it is published in hardcover edition and also on the Internet in the form of Open access, De Greuter Open, https://www.degruyter.com/viewbooktoc/product/212904 . The book provides much new work on the Black Death, but also translations of works that so far has not been available in English. It also contains several long chapters that relate thoroughly to questions and controversies with respect to the presence of black rats in the Nordic countries (pp. 395-451 with three maps), transmission and dissemination by human ectoparasites, and the early-phase transmission theory or hypothesis rather (as long its advocates cannot explain how pathogenic doses of plague bacteria in the foregut of fleas are moved into a new bite site against the strong stream of a new blood meal).

This involves also the gathering together and presentation of all data on plague bacteraemia in rats and human beings to clarify their potential roles as sources of infection of feeding fleas and lice, the prevalence of bacteremia in rats and human beings measured as number of plague bacteria per mL (mm3) of blood, the volume of blood fleas or lice ingest (µL), and, thus, the potential role of human ectoparasites and rat fleas in the transmission and dissemination of plague bacteria. Finally, there is discussion of border values of Lethal Doses of transmission in the case of human beings and the presence and conditions for transmission of LDs of plague bacteria. There are also studies of the pattern, rhythm and seasonality of the spread of plague epidemics as reflections of and, thus, sources of information on the processes of transmission and dissemination.

The introductory general chapter on plague contains also two specific subchapters that really are lengthy articles. In Chapter 1.5, all paleobiological data on finds of aDNA or F1 antigen of Y. pestis in putative plague graves are gathered together with a comprehensive presentation of the research history and achievements of the new discipline of paleobiology in plague-related research, pp. 73-99. Chapter 1.4, reverts to the topic of alternative theories of plague, in this case an epidemiological alternative, which so far has not been addressed seriously and critically: ‘Serious Plague History under Pressure: The Twelfth Theory of Historical Plague. Comments on the Recent paper “Climate-driven Introductions of the Black Death and Successive Plague Reintroductions into Europe”, pp. 35-72. The relevant points on the role of human ectoparasites in the epidemiology of plague are discussed in the chapters mentioned above.

I will be grateful for all critical and supplementary reactions, which can come to good use now that my English publisher has asked me to write a 2nd edn. of my monograph on the Black Death and I am working on it to the hilt. This is also the case with respect to my previous monograph What Disease was Plague? On the Controversy over the Microbiological Identity of Plague Epidemics of the Past, Leiden: Brill , pp. 746.

Happy New Year to all,

Ole J. Benedictow
Emeritus Professor,
Department of History,
University of Oslo

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.

Marcel Keller

Co-Editor of the Black Death Network
Postdoc in Palaeogenetics at U. of Tartu

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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:  http://lists.asu.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A0=MEDMED-L, click on “Subscribe or Unsubscribe” and follow directions from there.)