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Big Era Five: Closeup Unit 5.5.1

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Coping with Catastrophe
The Black Death of the Fourteenth Century:
1330-1355

Why This Unit?

This unit deals with the causes, characteristics, transmission, and social consequences of the Black Death of the mid-fourteenth century in the geographical context of Afroeurasia. Through study of primary source documents, students will consider how the mindsets of people who faced a horrifying crisis nearly 700 years ago were similar to or different from those of people today. Exploring a case of catastrophic population decline, they will investigate the importance of demographic (population) change as a historical theme. They will grapple with the problem of how to assess the historical significance of a key event in world history.

Teachers may present this unit in a number of classroom contexts:

  • An example of a historical process that cut across political and cultural boundaries and that had significance for Afroeurasia as a whole.
  • A case study of the influence of the environment on human history.
  • Part of a general study of the medieval period.
  • A basis for comparison with other demographic crises of major significance, for example, the calamitous decline of American Indian populations in the sixteenth century.
  • Background to study of the Renaissance-Reformation in Europe.

 

Unit Objectives

Upon completing this unit, students will be able to:

1. Trace the spread of the Black Death and relate its spread to historical conditions in Afroeurasia in the fourteenth century.

2. Describe contemporary reactions to the Black Death and explain how social and cultural values, beliefs, and conditions influenced those reactions.

3. Analyze and appreciate the complexity of the causes and consequences of the Black Death.

4. Draw inferences from information on a map or in a primary source document.

5. Assess the reliability of primary sources as historical evidence.

6. Evaluate the historical significance of an event.

 

Time and Materials

A thorough treatment of the unit will take 120 to 240 minutes of class time. Because each lesson stands on its own, however, teachers may choose to present only one or two lessons.

No special materials are required.

Table of Contents

A Teaching Unit of the National Center for History in the Schools

2

Why this unit?

2

Unit objectives

2

Time and materials

3

Authors

3

The historical context

3

Table of dates

7

This unit in the Big Era timeline

10

Dramatic moment

11

Lesson 1: No Escape from Death: The Catastrophic Plague Arrives

13

Lesson 2: Trying to Cope: Explanations and Counter-measures

23

Lesson 3: The Impact on Society

40

Unit summary discussion questions and activities

49

This unit and the Three Essential Questions

50

This unit and the Seven Key Themes

50

This unit and the Standards in Historical Thinking

50

Resources

51

Correlations to National and State Standards

53

Conceptual links to other teaching units

54

Complete Teaching Unit in PDF Format

 

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