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Lesson Plan January 27, 2021

Voices in the Shadow of Death: The Lost Narratives of the Bubonic Plague and Covid-19

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This unit was created by Adam Guerrero, a history teacher at Crowley Independent School District in Crowley, Texas, as part of the fall 2020 Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellowship program on Media, Misinformation, and the Pandemic. It is designed for facilitation across approximately three 50-minute class periods.

Unit Objectives

  • Analyze a series of historical 14th century sources on the Black Death for their author, bias, and purpose in order to evaluate which voices are not present in the documents.
  • Analyze contemporary sources surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic for the above-mentioned elements and seek to determine similarities and differences between the sources. 
  • Analyze underreported news stories on the coronavirus pandemic, and evaluate what stories might have been underreported during the Black Death.
  • Apply interview skills to the composition of original interviews that highlight underreported stories from The Black Death.

Unit Overview:

When a pandemic strikes a society, it is often the marginalized who suffer the most in a societal system that fosters little to no support economically, politically, or socially to those whose voices are often lost amidst the chaos. When reviewing the sources documenting a pandemic, a common theme occurs: the narrative is mostly controlled by those in power. Therefore, the following questions must be asked:  

  • How does that impact how a pandemic is addressed? 
  • How is a pandemic remembered in scholarship and human memory?  
  • How might lack of representation in media, and historical documentation of a pandemic cause further detriment upon marginalized communities?

The Bubonic Plague of the 14th century ravaged much of Afro-Eurasia, causing great devastation upon the population. During this tragic event, sources that controlled the narrative of the period often documented the experiences of certain groups of impoverished and marginalized communities in ways that were negative and inaccurate. Such misinformation and rumors often traveled alongside the plague, further harming already oppressed communities.

Although the Bubonic Plague ended more than six hundred years ago, there is much that a student of history could learn from analyzing the Black Death and comparing it to the modern COVID-19 pandemic. In the present, media sources often continue to leave out the voices of the marginalized members of modern day societies. Misinformation and rumors have also been part of the coverage of the current pandemic, and that misinformation has again led to a growing concern for the wellbeing of marginalized groups within society. 

This lesson aims to have students analyze sources from the period of the Black Death in Medieval Europe and compare them to coverage of the modern COVID-19 pandemic. They will evaluate whose stories are being told, and whose stories are being ignored. They will also seek to understand the credibility of sources and evaluate the inherent bias within each source.  Throughout this analysis,  students will practice their historical skills of comparing, contrasting, and analyzing the purposes of sources. They will also evaluate who is documented as having agency during a pandemic and whose voices are lost.

Performance Tasks

  • Draft outlines for underreported stories that students can investigate in their own communities
  • Document-based questions (DBQs) to track students' evaluations of reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and historical research on The Black Death
  • Original profiles and mock interviews that capture underreported stories from the period of The Black Death

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