plague

Essays

“Invisible Little Worms”: Athanasius Kircher’s Study of the Plague

“Invisible Little Worms”: Athanasius Kircher’s Study of the Plague

Living through the devastating Italian plague of 1656, the great polymath Athanasius Kircher turned his ever-enquiring mind to the then mysterious disease, becoming possibly the first to view infected blood through a microscope. While his subsequent theories of spontaneous generation and "universal sperm" were easily debunked, Kircher's investigation can be seen as an important early step to understanding contagion, and perhaps even the very first articulation of germ theory. John Glassie explores. more

Petrarch's Plague: Love, Death, and Friendship in a Time of Pandemic

Petrarch's Plague: Love, Death, and Friendship in a Time of Pandemic

The Italian poet and scholar Francesco Petrarch lived through the most deadly pandemic in recorded history, the Black Death of the 14th century, which saw up to 200 million die from plague across Eurasia and North Africa. Through the unique record of letters and other writings Petrarch left us, Paula Findlen explores how he chronicled, commemorated, and mourned his many loved ones who succumbed, and what he might be able to teach us today. more