Launchpad: Black Death

Activity 3—The Effects of the Black Death

Group 1 | Group 2 | Group 3

Group 1

Historians generally agree bubonic plague was the cause of the disease we call the Black Death. Only in the mid-19th Century did scientists begin to have an understanding of the mechanism for the transmission of such diseases. But you may be surprised to find out that people in the Middle Ages understood that good sanitation and similar precautions could help slow the progress of the plague.

I. Your assignment is to read and analyze the document Pistoia, "Ordinances For Sanitation In A Time Of Mortality" below.

Approach your reading of each primary source using the questions below as a guide:

Pistoia, "Ordinances For Sanitation In A Time Of Mortality," from the EDSITEment-reviewed Internet Medieval Sourcebook.

  1. What does the document state?
  2. What elements within the document have likely connections to the plague and its effects? In what way?
  3. In what ways, if any, does the document differ from other first- or secondhand accounts the class has read?
  4. What possible sources of bias or unintentional inaccuracy should be taken into account?

II. The following specific questions should guide your reading:

  1. What do the ordinances say?
  2. Which ordinances, if any, would likely have reduced deaths from the plague? Which, if any, would not?
  3. What do the ordinances suggest the council believed about how the plague spread?
  4. Which occupations would be affected by the ordinances?
  5. Which occupations would likely suffer as a result of the ordinances?
  6. Which might actually prosper?
  7. Which procedures required by ordinances XIV-XXII would you recommend be continued after the plague is gone, if you could advise the citizens of Pistoia (armed with our knowledge of sanitation and disease)?
  8. Assuming ordinances XIV-XXII remained in effect after the plague, how would life have changed (compared to the years before the Black Death) for those to whom the ordinances apply?

III. Answering the questions about the ordinances should help you stage an "interview" with one of the lords Anziani and the Standardbearer of Justice and another with a member of the working class.

Your staged interview should provide the following information to the class:

  • Explain the purpose of the ordinances.
  • Give examples of specific ordinances.
  • Discuss how the ordinances were likely to change how tradesmen and/or craftsmen worked.
  • Showcase ordinances you think would prove productive during the plague and in the future and others you think would not be productive.
  • Make connections for the other students explaining how the Black Death resulted in changes for those who survived.

Group 2

First, for background, read In the Wake of the Black Death from paragraph 7, "Masters and merchants petitioned their governments to intervene" to paragraph 9, "which denounced the corruption of officials and the clergy."

I. Approach your reading of each primary source using the following general questions as a guide:

  1. What does the document state?
  2. What elements within the document have likely connections to the plague and its effects? In what way?
  3. In what ways, if any, does the document differ from other first- or secondhand accounts the class has read?
  4. What possible sources of bias or unintentional inaccuracy should be taken into account?

II. Read the Ordinance of Labourers and The Statute of Labourers (from EDSITEment resource Internet Medieval Sourcebook).

The specific questions below should guide your reading:

  1. The Ordinance of Labourers mentions the plague ('pestilence') in the first paragraph. What does the document say about the connection between the plague and the problems the ordinances are supposed to address?
  2. Who is considered a laborer? Who is not?
  3. In what ways do the ordinances attempt to regulate laborers?
  4. In what ways do the ordinances attempt to regulate tradesmen? In what ways do the ordinances attempt to regulate employers of laborers?
  5. Who is responsible for enforcing the ordinances?
  6. How/Where are the ordinances supposed to be circulated?
  7. In what ways does the Ordinance of Labourers reflect changes in society? In what ways does the Ordinance of Labourers attempt to prevent changes in society?
  8. How does the The Statute of Labourers attempt to enforce the Ordinance of Labourers?
  9. What does the The Statute of Labourers suggest about the attitude of commoners toward the nobility?
  10. What does the The Statute of Labourers suggest about the attitude of the nobility toward commoners?
  11. In what ways do the Ordinance of Labourers and The Statute of Labourers suggest life is different in England as a result of the Black Death?

III. Answering the questions about the ordinances should help you stage an "interview" with the king and another with a laborer.

Your staged interview should provide the following information to the class:

  • Explain the purpose of the Ordinance of Labourers and The Statute of Labourers.
  • Give examples of specific ordinances and statutes.
  • Discuss how the ordinances and statutes were intended to change the lives of laborers.
  • Make clear the ways the ordinances and statutes were likely to be successful or to fail. How would laborers be likely to feel about the ordinances? Those who would employ laborers?
  • Make connections for the other students explaining how the Black Death resulted in changes for those who survived.

Group 3

First, read a brief modern summary of the events, In the Wake of the Black Death—a link from EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library, starting with the words "the decline in populations and inflation" in paragraph 9, and ending with "although the poll tax was abolished." in paragraph 19.

I. Approach your reading of each primary source using the following general questions as a guide:

  1. What does the document state?
  2. What elements within the document have likely connections to the plague and its effects? In what way?
  3. In what ways, if any, does the document differ from other first- or secondhand accounts the class has read?
  4. What possible sources of bias or unintentional inaccuracy should be taken into account?

II. Your assignment is to read accounts of the revolts known as the The Jacquerie (1358) and the Peasants' Revolt 1381 (both from Internet Medieval Sourcebook) each written by someone who lived at the time.

The specific questions below should guide your reading:

The following specific questions should guide your reading:

  1. What were the demands of Wat (Walter) Tyler?
  2. What about Wat's behavior indicated a change in attitude toward the nobility?
  3. What did the king promise?
  4. What happened when Wat was arrested?
  5. How did the king deal with his rebellious subjects?
  6. Which of the king's promises did he keep?

III. Answering the questions about the accounts should help you stage an "interview" with one of the leaders of each revolt and another with King Richard.

Your staged interview should provide the following information to the class:

  • Explain what happened during The Jacquerie in France and the Peasants' Revolt in England.
  • Make it clear to the class what the rebels were demanding.
  • Discuss the difference in attitude the peasants had toward the nobility after the plague.
  • Make connections for the other students as to how the Black Death related to the revolts that occurred in the years after it subsided.