Disease and Landscape in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

with Lori Jones

hosted by Chris Gratien, Nir Shafir, and Andreas Guidi

Download the podcast
Feed | iTunes | GooglePlaySoundCloud

Genomic research is resolving old questions about the history of plague, revealing, for example, that the Black Death was caused by the same species of plague that exists today and demonstrating the complex ways in which plague moved throughout the medieval and early modern world. Yet even as scientific methods today shed light on the history of plague, past understandings and depictions of disease remain both highly relevant and ignored. In this episode, we chat with Lori Jones about early modern European views of plague and explore the relationship between disease, landscape, and geography within the European imagination. We talk about the origins of environmental understandings of disease and how plague became increasingly associated with eastern and southern locales such as the Ottoman Empire and Southern Europe. We also have a separate conversation (beginning at 32:30) about the misuse of medieval images concerning disease and medicine in the 21st century as digital media facilitate both the spread and disembodiment of historical images. 

This episode is part of an ongoing series entitled "History of Science, Ottoman or Otherwise."

Stream via SoundCloud


Lori Jones is a PhD Candidate in the University of Ottawa's Department of History. Her research focuses on how written portrayals of the geographical and historical origins of the plague evolved across the late medieval to early modern periods.
Chris Gratien holds a Ph.D. from Georgetown University's Department of History. His research focuses on the social and environmental history of the Ottoman Empire and the modern Middle East. He is currently preparing a monograph about the environmental history of the Cilicia region from the 1850s until the 1950s.
Nir Shafir is a historian of the Middle East whose research examines the intersections of knowledge production, religious practice, and material culture in the early modern world (1400-1800). He curates Ottoman History Podcast’s series on history of science in addition to being one of the co-founders of hazine.info, a website that explores the archives and libraries of the Islamic world. He is currently an advanced doctoral candidate in the History Department at UCLA.
Andreas Guidi is a Ph.D. candidate at the Humboldt University in Berlin and at the EHESS in Paris researching on networks, generations, and capital transmission in late and post-Ottoman Rhodes. He is also the creator of the Southeast Passage podcast.  


Episode No. 270
Release Date: 19 September 2016
Recording Location: Paris, France
Editing and production by Chris Gratien
Sound excerpts: Katibim (Uskudar'a Gider iken) - Safiye AylaBaglamamin Dugumu - Necmiye Ararat and MuzafferHarmandali - Recep Efendi, Cemal Efendi
Special thanks to Kara Güneş for allowing us to use the composition "Istanbul" in the intro and outro music
Images and bibliography courtesy of Lori Jones


The following images DO NOT depict plague but are commonly mislabeled as such. To hear more about them, jump to minute 32:30 of the interview. 

Figure 1: This image does not depict plague. It is an image of clerics with leprosy receiving instruction from a bishop.  More commonly labelled as “Plague Victims Blessed by Priest” (Source: James le Palmer, Omne bonum, c.1365. London, British Library, MS Royal 6.E.VI, vol. 2, fol. 301ra. http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=32116)

Figure 2: This image does not depict the Black Death. It is an image of Exodus 9:8-9, the sixth "Biblical plague" of Egypt, which was "boils." More commonly labelled as ‘The Black Death - from the 10 Plagues of Egypt’. (Source: Toggenburg-Bibel. Beulenpest (Zehn Plagen, die über Ägypten kommen). c.1411 Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ident. Nr. 78.E.1, fol.80v. http://www.smb-digital.de/eMuseumPlus?service=ExternalInterface&module=collection&objectId=819062&viewType=detailView)

Figure 3: This image does not depict plague. It is an image of  St. Francis of Assisi and his disciples tending to people in the Santa Maria de li Angeli leper hospital. More commonly labelled as ‘Franciscans treating plague victims.’ (Source: La Franceschina, c.1474. Perugia, Biblioteca Augusta di Perugia, MS 1238, fol. 223r. http://augusta.alchimedia.com/scheda.aspx?prov=div&ID=122)


Dobson, M.J. Contours of Death and Disease in Early Modern England. Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Green, Monica H., ed. Pandemic Disease in the Medieval World: Rethinking the Black Death. The Medieval Globe 1. Kalamazoo: Arc Medieval Press, 2015.

Hippocrates. “On Airs, Waters, and Places.” In The Genuine Works of Hippocrates: Translated from the Greek with a Preliminary Discourse and Annotations, trans. Francis Adams, volume 1. William Wood, 1886. https://archive.org/details/genuineworksofhi00tran

Jones, Lori. “The Diseased Landscape: Medieval and Early Modern Plague-Scapes.” Landscapes (2016), forthcoming.

Rawcliffe, Carole. Urban Bodies: Communal Health in Late Medieval English Towns and Cities. Boydell Press, 2013.

Slack, Paul. The Impact of Plague in Tudor and Stuart England. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985.

Varlik, Nükhet. Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World: The Ottoman Experience, 1347–1600. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Wear, Andrew. “Place, Health, and Disease: The Airs, Waters, Places Tradition in Early Modern England and North America.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 38, no.3 (2008): 443-65.

Disease Images

Boeckl, CM. Images of Plague and Pestilence: Iconography and Iconology. Kirksville, Missouri: Truman State University Press; 2000.

Green, Monica, Kathleen Walker-Meikle, and Wolfgang P. Müller. “Diagnosis of a ‘Plague’ Image: A Digital Cautionary Tale.” The Medieval Globe 1 (2014): 309–26.

Grmek, Mirko D. and Gourvitch D. Les maladies dans l’art antique. Paris: Fayard, 1998.

Jones, Lori and Richard Nevell. “Plagued by Doubt and Viral Misinformation: The Need for Evidence-based Use of Historical Disease Images.” The Lancet Infectious Diseases (2016).

Jones, Peter Murray. “Word and Image in Medieval Medicine.” In Visualizing Medieval Medicine and Natural History 1200–1550, ed. Givens, J.A., K.M. Reeds, and A. MacKinney, 1-24.  Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; 2006.

Mitchell, Piers D. “Retrospective Diagnosis and the Use of Historical Texts for Investigating Disease in the Past.” International Journal of Paleopathology 1 (2011): 81–8.


Ottoman History Podcast is a noncommerical website intended for educational use. Anyone is welcome to use and reproduce our content with proper attribution under the terms of noncommercial fair use within the classroom setting or on other educational websites. All third-party content is used either with express permission or under the terms of fair use. Our page and podcasts contain no advertising and our website receives no revenue. All donations received are used solely for the purposes of covering our expenses. Unauthorized commercial use of our material is strictly prohibited, as it violates not only our noncommercial commitment but also the rights of third-party content owners.

We make efforts to completely cite all secondary sources employed in the making of our episodes and properly attribute third-party content such as images from the web. If you feel that your material has been improperly used or incorrectly attributed on our site, please do not hesitate to contact us.