The Black Death and European expansion Event as iCalendar

(History, School of Humanities, news-education)

21 March 2018


Venue: HSB1, Social Sciences Building (201N-346)

Professor James Belich | University of Oxford

Between 1415 and 1914, European control expanded from 5% to 80% of the earth's surface. This expansion is often attributed to institutional or cultural factors, but this lecture argues that, counter-intuitively, a key cause was the Black Death plague pandemic, beginning in the 1340s. Some of the strands of the argument ('depletion-driven expansion', 'urban colonialism', and 'crew culture') are derived from Belich's earlier studies in the New Zealand historical laboratory.

With a commendable sympathy for the under-rat, the news media consistently show great interest in whether or not rats spread the Black Death of 1346-53. But this has tended to overshadow three other recent findings on this great plague. First, while plague might have originated in what is now western China, the 14th century Black Death does not seem to have hit China and India as is still widely assumed. Second, plague mortality in the 1340s was not the traditional 25-33% but a staggering 50%. Third, repeat strikes of plague kept Europe's population to about this level until 1500. So Europe's global expansion began when it had half as many people as usual. The solution to this ‘plague paradox’ is that the plague era incubated developments which improved both the motives and the means for expansion.

Register to attend