March 09, 2021

History Professor Katherine Jansen organized the first ever webinar for the journal, Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies in order to launch the January themed issue entitled, “Disease, Death and Therapy.” The issue presents some of the newest and most cutting edge research on the first and second plague pandemics: the Justinianic Plague, of the mid sixth century, and its more famous successor, the Black Death or bubonic plague of 1348. Jansen serves as the editor of the journal and was the moderator of the webinar.

The webinar consisted of five 10-minute TED-style presentations by junior and senior scholars, including Michael McCormick of Harvard University, who discussed their new research related to medieval plague, mortality rates, ecological disaster as treated in medieval literature, and the ways music served as therapy in late-medieval Italy. 

All of the topics for the webinar were pulled from the pages of the January issue of Speculum, with the authors presenting their own research. By having the article contributors participate in the webinar, Jansen said she hoped to bring the research to new audiences in an accessible way. 

“This was a way to bring first-class research scholarship to the public in bite-sized nuggets,” she said. “Especially these days when the authority of fact and real research and truth is often in doubt, this is a way to show what real research is all about: the value of looking hard at your sources and working hard to marshall evidence to make a convincing argument.” 

The webinar had an audience of more than 300 people around the world listening and asking questions. Numerous people even reached out in the days following the event to share their appreciation, Jansen said. She is already planning a follow-up webinar in March that will provide guidance on publishing for early-career scholars.

“This format of launching a journal issue in this way was unique and it was only possible through the new web techniques and interfaces,” she said. “Ironically, one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that we have turned to the internet to bring us all together in new and exciting  ways.” 

Jansen said she hoped the webinar would help audience members better understand a period of medieval history that speaks to our current moment in time. “The parallels to the fourteenth century, a period of food insecurity, an uncontrolled pandemic, institutionalized structural inequalities, political instability, and the fracturing of venerable institutions easily come to mind. 

We are not the only humans in the course of history to have lived through such difficult times,” she said. “Though many people died in the first and second plague pandemic, it’s comforting to know that some people did make it through, and not only that, they creatively responded to it to restructure society with new ideas and institutions.  

View a recording of the webinar at the website for the Medieval Academy of America

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