Keynote Lecture by Nükhet Varlik, Rutgers University – Newark with the topic "Rethinking the Pandemics of the Medieval Mediterranean: Disruption and Resilience"
On Wednesday, 13 July 2022 at 6:00 PM (Athens). Keynote lecture by Nükhet Varlik (Rutgers University - Newar) on "Rethinking the Pandemics of the Medieval Mediterranean: Disruption and Resilience" will be held in the Lecture Hall of the Institute for Mediterranean Studies as part of the 7th International Biennial Conference "Interruptions and Disruptions in the Medieval Mediterranean, 400 – 1500" of the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean (SMM).
The medieval Mediterranean experienced a series of epidemic and endemic diseases, among which were the two most disruptive pandemics of plague of the premodern world, i.e., the Justinianic Plague and the Black Death, each initiating the new disease regimes of the first and the second pandemics of plague respectively. Both series of epidemics left a deep imprint in Mediterranean societies, transforming them irreversibly. But how do we study such epidemic episodes of the past? Where is our attention focused and what are our blind spots? And how to we rethink the legacy of past pandemics? In this present age of pandemics, it is critical to rethink how we write that history. With a conviction that the past helps us to understand the present and the present should help us to rethink the past, I turn to past plagues and the legacy they left behind.
In this presentation, I will take stock of the lasting legacies of past plagues because they continue to shape the way we think about new pandemics. First, I will stress that the reflexive discussion of past pandemics as short-term cataclysmic events must be replaced by a broader, more realistic vision that recognizes that pandemics are long-term processes. This can be only achieved by adopting a longer, multicentury timescale that facilitates detecting the ebb and flow of diseases over the longue durée. Then, I will emphasize that we need to shift our focus beyond epidemic episodes of disruption to better understand how past societies learned to live with diseases and the processes by which they developed the means of resilience in facing them. In both cases, the medieval Mediterranean serves as an excellent case in point with a rich repository of historical experiences. Against this backdrop, I will then turn to the lasting legacies of past plagues and address persistent problems, such as European exceptionalism, triumphalism, and epidemiological orientalism that are not only ubiquitous in the historical scholarship, but also staples of public opinion about pandemics, past and present.