The Black Death, a severe epidemic that ravaged fourteenth-century Europe, has intrigued scholars ever since Francis Gasquet's 1893 study contending that this epidemic greatly intensified the political and religious upheaval that ended the Middle Ages. Thirty-six years later, historian George Coulton agreed but, paradoxically, attributed a silver lining to the Black Death: prosperity engendered by diminished competition for food, shelter, and work led survivors of the epidemic into the Renaissance and subsequent rise of modern Europe.
In the 1930s, however, Evgeny Kosminsky and other Marxist historians claimed the epidemic was merely an ancillary factor contributing to a general agrarian crisis stemming primarily from the inevitable decay of European feudalism. In arguing that this decline of feudalism was economically determined, the Marxist asserted that the Black Death was a relatively insignificant factor. This became the prevailing view until after the Second World War, when studies of specific regions and towns revealed astonishing mortality rates ascribed to the epidemic, thus restoring the central role of the Black Death in history.
This central role of the Black Death (traditionally attributed to bubonic plague brought from Asia) has been recently challenged from another direction. Building on bacteriologist John Shrewsbury's speculations about mislabeled epidemics, zoologist Graham Twigg employs urban case studies suggesting that the rat population in Europe was both too sparse and insufficiently migratory to have spread plague. Moreover, Twigg disputes the traditional trade-ship explanation for plague transmissions by extrapolating from data on the number of dead rats aboard Nile sailing vessels in 1912. The Black Death, which he conjectures was anthrax instead of bubonic plague, therefore caused far less havoc and fewer deaths than historians typically claim.
Although correctly citing the exacting conditions needed to start or spread bubonic plague, Twigg ignores virtually a century of scholarship contradictory to his findings and employs faulty logic in his single-minded approach to the Black Death. His speculative generalizations about the numbers of rats in medieval Europe are based on isolated studies unrepresentative of medieval conditions, while his unconvincing trade-ship argument overlooks land-based caravans, the overland migration of infected rodents, and the many other animals that carry plague.
1. According to the passage, the post-Second World War studies that altered the prevailing view of the Black Death involved which of the following?
A. Determining the death rates caused by the Black Death in specific regions and towns
B. Demonstrating how the Black Death intensified the political and religious upheaval that ended the Middle Ages
C. Presenting evidence to prove that many medieval epidemics were mislabeled
D. Arguing that the consequences of the Black Death led to the Renaissance and the rise of modern Europe
E. Employing urban case studies to determine the number of rats in medieval Europe
2. The "silver lining to the Black Death" (the highlighted text) refers to which of the following?
A. The decay of European feudalism precipitated by the Black Death
B. Greater availability of employment, sustenance, and housing for survivors of the epidemic
C. Strengthening of the human species through natural selection
D. Better understanding of how to limit the spread of contagious diseases
E. Immunities and resistance to the Black Death gained by later generations
3. The passage suggests that Twigg believes that rats could not have spread the Black Death unless which of the following were true?
A. The rats escaped from ships that had been in Asia.
B. The rats were immune to the diseases that they carried.
C. The rats population was larger in medieval Europe than Twigg believes it actually was.
D. The rats population primarily infested densely populated areas.
E. The rats interacted with other animals that Twigg believes could have carried plague.
4. The author's attitude toward Twigg's work is best characterized as which of the following?
5. The passage is primarily concerned with
A. demonstrating the relationship between bubonic plague and the Black Death
B. interpreting historical and scientific works on the origins of the Black Death
C. employing the Black Death as a case study of disease transmission in medieval Europe
D. presenting aspects of past and current debate on the historical importance of the Black Death
E. analyzing the differences between capitalist and Marxist interpretations of the historical significance of the Black Death
6. Which of the following statements is most compatible with Kosminsky's approach to history, as it is presented in the passage?
A. The Middle Ages were ended primarily by the religious and political upheaval in fourteenth-century Europe.
B. The economic consequences of the Black Death included increased competition for food, shelter, and work.
C. European history cannot be studied in isolation from that of the rest of the world.
D. The number of deaths in fourteenth-century Europe has been greatly exaggerated by other historians.
E. The significance of the Black Death is best explained within the context of evolving economic systems.