Plague in Medieval and Early Modern Europe Analytical Essay by scholl264

Plague in Medieval and Early Modern Europe
A discussion on how the responses to the plague in medieval and early modern Europe can be best characterized as early examples of the operation of disciplinary power.
# 103283 | 2,291 words | 11 sources | MLA | 2007 | GB
Published on May 01, 2008 in History (European)

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This paper discusses Michel Foucault's contention of the plague as a historical phenomenon, out of which a controlling, intrusive and discursively powerful form of modern rule emerged in Europe. The paper relates that, from a retrospective look at the responses to the plague in mediaeval and early modern Europe, it is tempting to conclude that the responses represented clear early examples of disciplinary power in action. Moreover, plague regimes appear to have been interventionist, controlling and totalizing. The paper then explains that this view leads to a distorted understanding of power as all-encompassing when, in reality, it was anything but. The paper concludes that it would be historically inaccurate to leave the impression that these plague regimes were omnipotent, for the simple reason that the enforcement of power was a messy, contested and negotiated process. There is also a limit to seeking examples of disciplinary power in a past period that Foucault himself did not necessarily see as completely emblematic of his theory.

Power as Interventionist and Controlling
Power as Limited and Hyped

From the Paper:

"Certainly England did eventually move towards a continental style of control. But this move, instigated under the rule of Charles I, was quickly abandoned following the outbreak of the Civil War. (Naphy and Spicer, 2000, p.100) Even if this plan had been carried out by the Crown, which had by and large succeeded in setting up pest houses throughout the rest of the kingdom, London would surely have resisted, for it rejected a system of pest houses in favour of continuous home quarantine, which obviated the need for "an extensive and expensive system of workers". (Naphy and Spicer, 2000, p.126) More significantly, London insisted on relying upon local and national charities as well as normal taxation to fund measures to cope with the plague rather than resort to a special plague tax that would have made the victims of disease wholly dependent on the benevolence of the state - to this extent inhabitants were not subject to the totalizing power of the state. (Naphy and Spicer, 2000, p.126) "

Sample of Sources Used:

  • Aberth, John, The Black Death: The Great Mortality of 1348-50, Basingstoke: Palgrave 2005.
  • Benedictow, Ole J., The Black Death 1346-1353, Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2004.
  • Carmichael, Ann G., Plague and the Poor in Renaissance Florence, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
  • Cipolla, Carlo, Fighting the Plague in Seventeenth-Century Italy, Madison and London: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981.
  • Cunningham, Andrew and Ole Peter Grell, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Religion, War, Famine and Death in Reformation Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

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