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Series One: Rare Printed Sources from the Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, c1470-1822

Part 2: Sources, 1622-1824

This microfilm edition brings together a wide variety of rare printed sources, comprising some 230 volumes, covering the Black Death throughout Europe. There is material for Germany, France, Italy, England, Switzerland and Central Europe, opening up numerous possibilities for comparative research work. The material in this microfilm collection is organised by date, with the items for the period 1622 to 1824 appearing in Part 2, (please see detailed listing for Part 2 below). Those items for the period before 1622 appear in Part 1.

This project is particularly strong for treatises giving suggestions, instructions and advice; short accounts of the particular sufferings of individual cities, towns or villages; recipes for treatments; notes on experiments; and historical observations looking at origins, causes and effects of The Plague.

Although the Black Death reached the shores of the eastern Mediterranean as early as autumn 1347, the printed materials in this project date from 1470. However, a number of items such as Relazione istorica della peste (Palermo 1745); De Peste (Leipzig 1683); and De Victus et medicinae ratione cu alio, tum pestilentiae tempore observanda, commentarius by Johannes Guinterius (1542) provide observations and retrospective analysis going back to earlier years.

Other items include:

- Catalogue medicamentorum simplicium et facile parabilium pestilentiae veneno adversantium, Antonii Schneeberger [1605].
- De la Manire de prserver de la pestilence, et de guerir, selon les bons autheurs
. Benoit Textor [Lyon, 1550].
- Prservatifs et remdes contre la peste, ou le capucin charitable, enseignant le mthode pour remedier aux grandes misres que la peste a cotume de causer parmy les peuples Maurice de Toulon [Paris 1668].

For the later period there is Considerations on the means of preventing the communications of pestilential contagion, and of eradicating it in infected places [William Brownrigg, London, 1771]; A Short discourse concerning pestilential contagion by Richard Mead [1721]; and one year later, from the Facult de Paris, Trait de la Peste, with replies to questions from the provinces, notes on methods to employ and particular problems to avoid. Many items such as Nouvelles Rflexions sur l’origine, la cause, la propagation… etc de la peste… Jean Jaques Manget [Geneva 1722] look at the causes and origins of the Plague.

Again for the later period there is also a Treatise of the Plague containing an historical journal and medical account of the plague at Aleppo in the years 1760, 1761 and 1762. This also contains details on quarantines, lazarettos and the administration of the police in times of pestilence. Various appendices contain records of many individual cases and an account of the weather during the pestilential season. The volume was published by Patrick Russell in London (Robinson 1791). This is a remarkable volume running to 583 pages plus the extensive appendix section containing a very thorough series of case histories. Two examples are given below:-

CASE IV: July 1760:

"A widow lady, about forty, of a delicate, thin habit, and the mother of several children, found herself indisposed on the twelfth of July, in the evening, and observed one of the glands of her neck a little swelled. Next morning, she was pretty well, but, in the evening, became hot and feverish, and the swelling increased. On the 3rd day she was bled.

I saw her the 6th day, in the morning. Her eyes had not the muddy appearance, so remarkable in the plague, but her countenance was strangely altered. The forehead was streaked with purplish red, and her cheeks flushed, and were pale, by turns. The pulse was moderately full, but exceedingly quick - the skin felt hot and burning; and the tongue was whitish, not parched. She complained of head-ach, and of pain at the heart. Her thirst was moderate; she had a constant loathing, but had not vomited. She had retained her senses from the beginning, and gave me a distinct account of what had passed, adding, despondently, that she was sure she must die. The parotid of the right side, was enlarged to the size of a hen’s egg, and two of the cervical glands also were considerably swelled. These tumours were hard, painful, and slightly inflamed in the middle.

The exacerbation, on the night of the 6th, had been violent. She vomited frequently, and had a stool, for the first time in five days. Her condition on the 7th was much the same as yesterday. The 8th, she appeared to be worse. The tumours were enlarged, but had made no approach to maturation. The 9th, I saw her not, but was informed she remained in the same state. She had hitherto taken the diaphoretic mixture, and acidulated cordials, but from this time (I believe) took no medicine. She died the 11th day of the disease."


"The daughter of the lady, (CASE IV) a sprightly, healthy girl, eight years of age, was taken ill at the same time with her mother. I saw her on the 6th day, for the first time. Her eyes were a little muddy, her face pale; but there was little alteration in her tongue. The pulse was low, and exceedingly quick. The external heat was considerable, but, by the nurse’s account, she was then less feverish than the preceeding day. She had a bubo, situated unusually high, in the right axilla, about the size of a green walnut, hard, and painful, but without external inflammation. On each arm were two pustules (the size of a ripe small - pocle) which had been protruded on the 4th day. These, at top, were covered with a brownish crust, from beneath which ouzed a thin ichorous matter. The skin round them, was not so intensely red as I had before observed in carbuncles. Besides these eruptions, one less common, was situated in the left arm, above the usual place of opening issues. This was a hard, painful, glandular-like swelling, larger than a hazelnut, and deep seated under the skin, which was neither tense, nor inflamed.

Circumstances prevented my seeing this girl after the 9th day. The axillary bubo opened in the 3rd week, and she recovered very well.

An old woman who attended constantly on this girl and her mother was not infected."

This microfilm set enables scholars to ask all sorts of questions about the European plague. What was its impact? How quickly did it spread? How did different regions try to cope with such devastating problems? Were the effects different in towns and cities compared to rural areas? What longer term effects did it have? Rural insurrection, Peasant revolt, the Flagellants, religious persecution, crime and violence, social and economic disruption and dislocation… this microfilm set has much to offer students of the socio-economic, not to mention demograpic, implications of the great pestilence.

As Natalie Zemon Davis, Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Princeton University states:

"The Black Death is one of those momentous events in Europe that touched every feature of life, from economics and wage labour to art history and hopes for the after life, from concepts of social alliance to new forms of hospital architecture. The pamphlet literature it inspired is one of the most interesting of the end of the Middle Ages and the early modern period, and the collection from the library at Wolfenbttel is remarkable in its geographical range and time span. Scholars will find this new selection of Plague pamphlets a wonderful resource."

This is backed up by the comments of Professor Mary Lindemann of the Carnegie Mellon University who writes:

"Plague and pestilence, like war and famine, powerfully shaped the consciousness of early modern Europeans. Much studied but still so little understood, the experience of epidemic disease is one of the central themes of social history. The Wolfenbttel collection of plague tracts and pamphlets offers rich material for any scholar of early modern Europe interested in medicine and public health, in mentalité, in the growth of early modern governments and bureaucracies, or in social relations more generally."

We would very much like to acknowledge the help and support of all those who have worked on this project at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbttel, in particular Dr Werner Arnold for his help and collaboration in organising the filming of this material.

Digital Guide
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