You want to write about … the Medieval Plague?

The Triumph of Death, Fresco in the Campo-Santo, Pisa, Italy

Narrowing your topic to research can sometimes be challenging, whether on a professional or educational front. For myself, writing about history in academia has sometimes been challenging to find a unique and engaging topic. I thought I would share what has worked for myself. First, I do a massive research database search for scholarly articles and look for aspects of the topic that interest me. When I find information that intrigues me, this helps me decide what direction my topic will take. You also may want to focus on an area of a subject not previously discussed much.

The topic of the Medieval Plague or Black Death was the topic of a class paper a few years ago. This was a very broad topic as you know! I have always been interested in Medieval European history. I had basic knowledge of the events, but wanted to find out more to narrow down my topic.

I began with a database search and came up with these scholarly journal articles:

  • Aberth, J. (2011). The Medical Response to the Black Death. In A. J. Andrea, World History Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
  • Atlas, J. (2009). The Black Death: An Essay on Traumatic Change. The Journal of Psychohistory, 36(3), 249.
  • Benedictow, O. J. (2005, March). The Black Death: The Greatest Catastrophe Ever: Ole J. Benedictow Describes How He Calculated That the Black Death Killed 50 Million People in the 14th Century, or 60 per Cent of Europe’s Entire Population. History Today, 55(3), 42.
  • Cohn Jr., S. K. (2002). The Black Death: End of a Paradigm. American Historical Review, 107(3), 703-738.
  • DeWitte, Sharon N. (2014). Mortality Risk and Survival in the Aftermath of the Medieval Black Death. Plos ONE, 9(5), 1-8. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096513.

All of these were excellent journal sources that pointed to traumatic changes after the Black Death. After much thought my title became: After the Black Death: Psychological Effects and Economic Changes in Europe.

Plague in London 1630

From the scholarly journals and other reputable sources, I crafted the paragraph below and made the PowerPoint presentation video.

The devastating loss from the plague was beneficial regarding the economic benefits for Europe.  Before the Black Death, Europe was over-populated and lack of resources for the demanding population.  There was also more class distinction as the work force was the feudal system in which the peasant serf could suffer from malnutrition and poverty.  After the depopulation from the Black Death, there was more a productive economic market in many ways.  First, there was a shortage of tenants and landowners had to compete for these tenants; which in turn meant lower rents and fines.  Second, the new shortage of laborers consequently ended the medieval system of serfdom which eventually increased wages as prices for food and goods declined.  The new shortage of labor, created new choices to workers (Dewitte,2014).  Third, living conditions in housing and improved diet changed for people of all social status.  Therefore, positive changes in diet led to better overall health and more influential immune competence.  The amount of money spent per capita also increased and people ate ‘higher qualities of relatively high-quality wheat bread, meat, and fish, much of which was consumed fresh rather than salted as had been common prior to the epidemic’ (DeWitte, 2014, p.2). [1]

Choosing a topic that interest you is key to thorough research and will motivate you to write the best paper you can. When are you excited and look forward to research or writing on a topic you enjoy, that will always ensure that you are on the right path. If you need help with your paper or topic, ask your reference librarian for help! They can help you with find sources, citations, or any other questions you may have. As you can clearly see, with the right research and determination, you can write a research or thesis paper to be proud of!

Other Helpful Resources

Handbook for Historians at the Le Moyne College in New York

Library of Congress Digital Collections

National Archives Educator Resources Website

Colonial Williamsburg (Virtual Tours, etc)

[1] DeWitte, Sharon N. (2014). Mortality Risk and Survival in the Aftermath of the Medieval Black Death. Plos ONE, 9(5), 1-8. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096513. Retrieved from:

[2] The Triumph Of Death, Fresco In The Campo-Santo, Pisa, Italy, Attributed To Francesco Traini. From Military And Religious Life In The Middle Ages By Paul Lacroix Published London Circa 1880.

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