The Great Transformation? David Herlihy, The Black Death and the Transformation of the West
By Helen Louise Steele
Introduction: It was an unprecedented disaster. When the Black Death swept west and northwards through Europe in the dark days of 1347–1351, it brought with it unparalleled suffering and death. With the demographic collapse came social, psychological and economic shock as the survivors struggled to comprehend the enormity of what had befallen. Yet it was also a pivotal point in Western history, maintains David Herlihy in The Black Death and the Transformation of the West. Not only did the Black Death break the Malthusian deadlock that had stifled medieval society but also it set off a series of economic, social, and cultural shifts that changed forever the face of European society. Analyzing medieval accounts of the pestilence, Herlihy challenges traditional plague epidemiology as well as setting out a case for the powerful consequences of the crisis.