What kinds of natural disasters occurred in Europe during the Middle Ages? How did people understand and react to them? And how does a modern historian go about answering those kinds of questions anyway? As we are reminded regularly at home and in the news, human beings are never in complete control of their environment. Medieval communities too were regularly afflicted by floods, earthquakes, droughts, storms, disease, and other trials and tribulations. To study how people in the past dealt with catastrophic natural events, historians need to look at a broad range of sources, using tools from the natural and medical sciences as well as social, economic, and intellectual history. After surveying the kinds of sources that are available for studying medieval natural disasters, we’ll take a look at a particularly bad year: 1348.
A native of Lanark Highlands, Kirsty Schut holds a Bachelor of Humanities from Carleton University and is currently finishing up a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto. She is interested in the history of ideas and institutions, especially the ways that ideas discussed in medieval universities were transmitted to the broader public. Her favourite part of her research is working with medieval Latin manuscripts, which she does whenever she has the chance, be it online, in European libraries, or right here in Canada.
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