October 7 Webinar

Contact jessicad@oslomet.no if you need a link to our Thursday’s webinar 16:00-17:00 (CET).

Guido Alfani, Bocconi University, will present:

“Unravelling the Mysteries of Seventeenth-Century Plagues: The Contribution of Micro-Demographic Approaches”

Of all the major pandemics of the past, those which have been caused by plague have attracted the greatest attention. And yet, most studies focused on the big picture, looking at the overall demographic, economic and social impact of plagues – and not even of all plagues, but especially of the main pandemic of medieval and early modern times: the Black Death of 1347-52. For such an early period, the available sources somehow restrict the possibility of gaining insights into the epidemiological (and social) mechanisms that allowed Yersinia Pestis to cause what remains the worst pandemic in European history, with an overall mortality rate of about 50% in the continent and in the broader Mediterranean area. As a consequence of this, many aspects of this pandemic remain mysterious, including possibly the main one: how exactly could plague kill such a large share of the population? Arguably, looking at the last great European plagues of the seventeenth century, which in the South of the continent led to mortality rates not very far from the Black Death, offers insights into the inner workings of all plague epidemics of medieval and early modern times. This, because for the seventeenth century a greater variety of historical sources is available, which allow to proceed to micro-demographic analyses of a kind that would be impossible for earlier events. Although studies of this kind remain rare, also due to the substantial investment in data collection from archival sources that they require, they are already leading to a significant change in the way we think of past plagues, and they seem to hold the promise to one day solve some long-standing historical mysteries.

Guido Alfani is Professor of Economic History at Bocconi University, Milan (Italy). He is also an Affiliated Scholar of the Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality, New York (U.S.). An economic and social historian and an historical demographer, he published extensively on inequality and social mobility in the long run, on the history of epidemics (especially of plague) and of famines, and on systems of social alliance. Recent works include The Lion’s Share. Inequality and the Rise of the Fiscal State in Preindustrial Europe (2019, with Matteo Di Tullio) and Famine in European History (2017, with Cormac Ó Gráda). During 2012-16 he was the Principal Investigator of the project EINITE-Economic Inequality across Italy and Europe, 1300-1800 (www.dondena.unibocconi.it/EINITE), funded by the European Research Council (ERC), and from 2017 he is the Principal Investigator of a second ERC project, SMITE-Social Mobility and Inequality across Italy and Europe 1300-1800.

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