Open Access Thesis
Date of Award
THE BLACK DEATH AND THE FUTURE OF MEDICINE
SARAH FRANCES VANNESTE
Advisor: Dr. Hans Hummer
Degree: Master of Arts
The Black Death was a catastrophic event in Europe's history. It had both devastating immediate effects and deep long-term consequences. Historians, however, have not agreed on the extent of the Black Death's effects on the development of medicine and medical practices in Europe. Some historians credit it with revealing the general failure of medieval medicine and directly sparking a reassessment and reformation of medical practices, while other historians minimize its effects on medicine or omit the Black Death entirely from their discussions of medicine's development. This paper investigates the nature and gravity of the Black Death's effects on medicine and finds the Black Death's place of importance to be in between the two extremes. The Black Death did reveal the shortcomings of the existing medical system in Europe, wherein the top medical practitioners focused on theories of causation and prevention of disease rather than practical medicine, as physicians were unable to successfully treat the plague. The Black Death sent physicians scrambling to both develop treatments for the plague and take measures to secure their status at the top of the medical hierarchy by producing writings on the plague and pushing for the regulation of medical practices. For surgeons, the Black Death provided an opportunity to challenge the position of the physicians and to assert their own authority as medical practitioners proficient in both theory and practice. The Black Death helped cause a shift in medicine toward greater emphasis on practice than there had been before, and intensified the struggle for status between physicians and surgeons. Yet, it did not completely destroy the existing medical system. Education based on the works of Hippocrates and Galen survived in the universities, however, the teaching of surgery and anatomy were gradually included as well were they had not been before and strengthened where they were already being taught. Thus, the Black Death represents an event that helped shape medieval medicine's course of development, and as such, helped shape the development of future medical practices.
Vanneste, Sarah Frances, "The Black Death And The Future Of Medicine" (2010). Wayne State University Theses. Paper 29.