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The Black Death in Egypt and England

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The Black Death in Egypt and England
A Comparative Study. By Stuart J. Borsch. (University of Texas Press, Austin: 2005. Pg. xii, 195. 1 Map, 43 Line Drawings, 34 Tables.) ISBN: 0-292-70617-0.

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - July 25, 2005

The Black Death, a euphemism for Bubonic Plague (Yersinia pestis) has long afflicted mankind. Spread primarily via fleas, the Black Death has repeatedly decimated population centers from one side of the earth to the other - and it is still with us today. In The Black Death in Egypt and England, Stuart J. Borsch, Assistant Professor of History at Assumption College provides an overview of the various outbreaks of Black Death in Medieval Egypt and England, and the aftermath of these attacks. Most important, in this groundbreaking comparative study, Borsch examines how the plague affected the two regions and why Egypt was unable to recover from the population loss as well, or as quickly as England did. Unlike previous hypophysis that claimed disparity in recovery rates was based upon ideological / religious differences between the two regions, Borsch clearly shows that the true cause was the difference in the methods of land ownership and agricultural practices employed in each country that accounted for the differences in impact and recovery from the population loss associated with the plague.

This text begins with a concise explanation of what the Black Death is, how it is spread, and the far reaching consequences it had both in terms of population loss and economic stagnation. The text then moves onto a discussion on the level of population decline from the plague in England and Egypt, followed by an overview of Egyptian agricultural and landholding practices, and then on the impact of the plague in both countries. In addition he discusses how the plague changed the agrarian economy in both countries, as well as its effect on both prices and wages, and what these changes signified. Borsch wraps-up the text with a chapter that explains the conclusions that he developed from this comparative study of the impact of the Black Death on Egypt and England and the lessons that can be garnered from this, in regard to possible modern plagues such as AIDS.

The Black Death in Egypt and England is a monumental and ground breaking work that I am sure will soon be required reading in any class on epidemics and their impact, as well as in those covering the plague in college level Egyptian or English history courses. The text will also fascinate scholars and general readers alike who have an interest in this aspect of Medieval history. The text contains ample explanatory graphs and charts that back-up Borsch's contentions, and he has included detailed endnotes that will aid anyone seeking to delve deeper into this subject.

Related Reviews:

The Great Plague, By Stephen Porter
A energetic account of the Bubonic Plague epidemic of 1665-66 and the effect that it had on English society.

The Great Plague - The Story of London's Most Deadly Year, by A. Lloyd Moote and Dorothy C. Moote.
An insightful account of the Great Plague of 1665 and the effect it had on the residents of London.

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