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Reconceiving the History of Plague in the Era of COVID-19


Project creators



Monica H. Green

Independent Scholar



Nükhet Varlik

Associate Professor

University of South Carolina

Not pictured:
Tunahan Durmaz, Ph.D. researcher, European University Institute



About the project

This project draws on the expertise of three plague historians and builds on five decades of scholarship about the plague’s history in the western Islamicate world (Islamic Spain and North Africa to the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean) to produce translations of key texts hitherto unavailable in English.

The project will look with new eyes at the “middle ground” of plague’s AfroEurasian history. It will focus on the pre-modern Islamicate world because, of all the regions of Afro-Eurasia afflicted by plague historically, this is the region that stands to produce the most transformative new knowledge in disease history. The focus will be fixed on one particular contribution that skilled historians can make: finding and interpreting the primary sources that document the human elements of plague’s history. 

The project focuses on a selection of the Arabic and Ottoman Turkish sources because, although a handful of excerpted texts have been available in anthologies, the majority of pertinent chronicles and medical texts have, to date, been inaccessible to Anglophone audiences. These will document the timing and course of key plague outbreaks in the western Islamic world, from the initial expansion of plague in the 13th century up through the last documented cases of plague in the 20th century. These will be shared gratis online, along with expert commentary to situate them in their larger context and draw out parallels and contrasts with other pandemic events. The project creators will also lead a webinar each semester to offer guidance on how to incorporate the materials into teaching.


The Albert Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest
St. Augustine Center, Room 410
Villanova University
Villanova, PA 19085

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