Plague Narratives: the Rhetoric of Catastrophe

Plague picThis course will investigate the representation of catastrophe by examining narratives of the plague pandemics, which collectively killed more than 200 million people. The goal will be to understand the strategies writers use to inform people of catastrophic risk — and specifically why those strategies succeed (or fail) to inspire action. Readings will include selections from Procopius’s History of the Wars, Boccaccio’s The Decameron, Hodges’ Loimologia, Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, and other lesser-known accounts.



Meets: Saturday, February 1, 2014 – Saturday, March 8, 2014
10:00 AM to 12:00 PM at Richard Hugo House

General: $245.00
Members of Hugo House: $220.50


Click here for information on registration and financial aid.


Week 1 – Introduction to History of the Plague

  • John Kelly, The Great Mortality (chapters 1-5)

Week 2 – Some Key Plague Narratives

  • Procopius, History of the Wars (Book II, xxii-xxxiii) – 542 AD*
  • Boccaccio, The Decameron (Introduction) – 1353 AD**
  • Rosemary Horrox (trans. And ed.), The Black Death (various accounts) – 14th Century**
  • Samuel Pepys, Samuel Pepys Diary (1665-1667) (*
  • Nathaniel Hodges, Loimologia (sections I-III) – 1672 AD*

Week 3 – Daniel Defoe – A Journal of the Plague Year

  • Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year – 1722 AD*

Week 4 – Visions of End Times – Real and Imagined

Week 5 – Risk Perception and Coping Mechanisms

Week 6 – Understanding Resistance and Inspiring Action

*Available online

**Will be included in course reader