Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A medieval scholar schools the New Yorker about the Black Death in stern open letter

Illustration for article titled A medieval scholar schools thei New Yorker/i about the Black Death in stern open letter
Photo: Manuel Velasco (Getty Images)

If you aren’t clued into #MedievalTwitter, you really are being quite the knave—it’s arguably the best, often sassiest way outside of a grad student TA’s breakout session to learn all about world history circa 1200 CE. Unfortunately, a lot of people out there remain unaware of #MedievalTwitter’s existence, including, it seems, The New Yorker, who learned firsthand this week just how savage takedowns can be from nerds well-versed on Saxon poetry, Islamic-Papal relations in 1032, and other such obscurities.

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Yesterday, Elly R. Truitt of the University of Pennsylvania tweeted out an open letter to the magazine in response to a recent article regarding the Black Death. The piece, which ran in this week’s print edition and is available online here, contends that the bubonic plague actually helped to end the Middle Ages and establish a cultural renewal throughout Europe, which, according to Professor Truitt, is total horseshit.

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“There was no ‘intellectual overthrow of the scholastic-medicine establishment’ as a result of the plague,” wrote Truitt. “In fact, the elastic therapeutic framework offered by Galenic theory, which underpinned all text-based, learned medicine across Islamdom, the Byzantine Empire, and the Latin Christian West, offered a highly rationalized framework for understanding the etiology, transmission, and treatment of the plague through the seventeenth century at least.”

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Oh snap, New Yorker! How’s it feel to get burned almost as badly as Europe’s pyres during the Dark Ages? Anyway, Truitt goes on to destroy the article piece-by-piece, noting that the essay apparently reinforces some pretty outdated, long-disproven Anglocentric myths about the spread of disease and medicinal research during that era.

“[The author] continued to spread a demonstrably false, xenophobic narrative about how the Black Death reached European shores,” Truitt writes near the end of their letter. “It’s clear that some things have not changed between the fourteenth-century and the twenty-first.”

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You tell ‘em, teach!

Update, 7:09 p.m.: A New Yorker spokesperson has now responded to Truitt’s letter, stating that, “Elly Truitt’s critique of our recent story “Crossroads” is off-base and, unfortunately, ignores the facts that were carefully laid out in the piece. We stand by the story.”

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Andrew Paul is a contributing writer with work recently featured by NBC Think, GQ, Slate, Rolling Stone, and McSweeney's Internet Tendency. He writes the newsletter, (((Echo Chamber))).

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