Introduction When a student, I was exposed to the Black Plague or Black Death as an abstract, even soulless, historical phenomenon. It was a part of history, and I liked history, but, like the Holocaust or nuclear devastation, it was simply unimaginable even as an abstraction. And, unlike the Holocaust or nuclear war, it was a distant artifact. In the later 1960s and 1970s, there were few accessible books on the plague in English and no History Channel to recreate it for us. As a graduate student in European history, my eyes were opened when I discovered an entire course dedicated to the Black Death and even had its instructor as my mentor. But it was a lower-level course and I a doctoral student, so I passed it by. Plague and I formally met near Florence, in the State Archives in Prato, Italy, in the papers of the 14th-century merchant Francesco Datini. He left a huge cache of letters and accounts when he died in 1410, and fortu- nately, no one saw fit to dispose of them. I chose as my dissertation topic his life, piety, and patronage. As I worked my way through some 10,000 original letters, I noted and set aside all references to plague, which first appeared and orphaned him when he was about 13 and affected him at least six times. Through the letters to and from the wealthy merchant—warning of plague’s recurrence, requesting aid, inviting relocation, informing of friends’ illness and death—the Black Death evolved from an abstraction to being a very real part of the lives I was encountering and a special part of the life I was reconstructing. I worked in the house he fled in 1390 and 1400 when plague threatened, and I daily wandered the streets down which the cry to “Bring forth your dead!” once echoed off the ancient stones. Years later, I was given the opportunity to write a monograph on the medieval Black Death (1347–1500) in 2004, and then a sec- ond on daily life during the Black Death in 2006, which I extended to the end of the Second Plague Pandemic in Europe in the 1770s. By this time, new studies of plague in English were appearing about once a month, and my language skills allowed me to study works produced in French, Italian, Spanish, and German, and sources in Latin. The scholarly landscape had changed greatly since the 1960s. I set myself the task of combing and synthesizing what I could of the research and speculation being produced by the small army of medical and historical experts and students. This encyclopedia is a fruit of that synthesis, and, I hope, a tool in the ongoing campaign to bring further light to the subject. xvii
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