The Black Death Digital Archive Project

Black Death

Black Death

Project Overview: 

Our understanding of the Black Death, the plague pandemic that ravaged Europe, the Middle East, and north Africa between 1346 and 1353, has been transformed in the past 15 years due to new developments in genetics. An evolutionary history of the causative organism of plague, Yersinia pestis, allows us now to track plague’s movements across vast landscapes and demonstrate the connected stories linking outbreaks from China to Spain to sub-Saharan Africa. Just as the geographical footprint of the Second Plague Pandemic has grown, so, too, has its chronological scope. We can now demonstrate that a sustained proliferation of strains of Y. pestis started in the late 12th or early 13th century, and lasted up to the 19th century. Researching such a vast phenomenon demands the combined labors of scientists and historians. This project serves as a portal for researchers from all disciplinary backgrounds, allowing them to find the best methodological work with links to biological, archaelogical, and documentary databases.

[P]rogress in documenting the full genome of past pathogens through the recovery of aDNA from plague cemeteries enables us to start the process of reconstructing chains of transmission between pathogens of the past and their modern heirs, by pinpointing specific successful mutations in time and space. ...Through the careful comparison of genomic information, possible scenarios of transmission emerge that need to be investigated against documentary and archaeological evidence.  – Gérard Chouin

Awarding the Black Death Digital Archive a special commendation, CARMEN medieval network writes, "the cross-national reach of the project (both in its research team and the global reach of its research), and its potential to advance our understanding of the second plague pandemic using a multidisciplinary portal for both experts and the public. The project also shows the potential for exciting work bringing together Medieval Studies and the Medical Humanities."

Read more about the prize at:



Project Team: 

Monica H. Green, Independent Scholar

Joris Roosen, Independent Scholar

Nükhet Varlık, Associate Professor of History, Rutgers University-Newark and the University of South Carolina

Ece Turnator, Humanities and Digital Scholarship Librarian, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Most recent first:

Green, Monica H. “When Numbers Don’t Count: Changing Perspectives on the Justinianic Plague.” Eidolon, 18 Nov. 2019.

Wade, Lizzie. “The Black Death May Have Transformed Medieval Societies in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Science | AAAS, March 6, 2019.

Green, Monica H. “Putting Africa on the Black Death Map: Narratives from Genetics and History,” Afriques 9, 2018. This is part of a special issue: Sillages de la peste noire en Afrique subsaharienne: une exploration critique du silence/Black Death and Its Aftermaths in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Critical Exploration of Silence, ed. Gérard Chouin.

Roosen, Joris and Daniel R. Curtis. “The ‘Light Touch’ of the Black Death in the Southern Netherlands: An Urban Trick?” Economic History Review.

Green, Monica H. “Climate and Disease in Medieval Eurasia.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Ed. David Ludden. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190277727.013.6.

Roosen, Joris. “Severity and Selectivity of the Black Death and Recurring Plague in the Southern Netherlands (1349-1450).” Low Countries Journal of Social and Economic History 14. 4 (2018), pp. 25-55.

Roosen, Joris and Daniel R. Curtis. “Dangers of Uncritical Use of Historical Plague Databases.” Emerging Infectious Diseases. 24.1 (2018), pp. 103-110.

Green, Monica H. “On Learning How to Teach the Black Death.” HPS&ST Note. March 2018, pp. 7–33.

Varlık, Nükhet. “Beyond Eurocentric Histories of Plague.” Early Science and Medicine. 22.4, 2017, pp. 361-373.

Green, Monica,  Ed. “Pandemic Disease in the Medieval World: Rethinking the Black Death.” The Medieval Globe (1) 2014.