Lesson Plans

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

Screenshot from a graphic organizer completed by a student from Crowley, TX as part of the unit, "Voices in the Shadow of Death: The Lost Narratives of the Bubonic Plague and Covid-19." United States, 2020.

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. For more units created by Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellows in this cohort, click here. 

Objectives:

Students will be able to...

  1. 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.
  2. Analyze contemporary sources surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic for the above-mentioned elements and seek to determine similarities and differences between the sources. 
  3. Analyze under-reported news stories on the coronavirus pandemic, and evaluate what stories might have been under-reported during the Black Death
  4. Apply interview skills to the composition of original interviews that highlight under-reported 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.

Resources for Facilitating this Unit:

  1. Click here for a PDF outlining the three lessons in this unit. Each lesson plan includes a warm up activities, extension activities, links to reporting explored as part of each lesson, and graphic organizers for students to track their work. Each graphic organizer can also be found in the performance tasks section below.
  2. Click here  for a google form that can be used to evaluate student learning at the end of the unit.

Performance Tasks:

  1. After lesson 1, students brainstorm ideas for under-reported stories they could investigate in their communities using pages 9-20 of this graphic organizer.
  2. After lesson 2, students compare and contrast reporting on The Black Death and The COVID-19 pandemic using the "Evaluating Documentation of The Black Death and COVID-19" graphic organizer 
  3. After lesson 3, students will apply what they have learned from the previous lessons by identifying an under-represented person from the Black Death in Medieval Europe and conducting a mock profile of that person. The final profile can be hosted in the "Reporting During The Black Dealth" graphic organizer.

Assessment/Evaluation

  1. At the conclusion of the unit, students reflect on their learning using this google form, which can be copied and reused in your class.

    • Here are examples of how students who participated in the unit in fall 2020 from Crowly, TX responded at the end of the unit.
Educator Notes: 

Optional Resources for Lesson 2

  1. "Tucker Carlson: We were lied to about coronavirus and the mass lockdowns. Here's the proof" by Tucker Carlson for Fox News
  2. "Trump to 'suspend immigration into the United States' by executive order amid coronavirus" by Gregg Re for Fox News 
  3. "New York Threatens Orthodox Jewish Areas With Lockdown Over Virus" by Liam Stack and Joseph Goldstein for The New York Times
  4. Other sources in "The Black Death," which was translated and edited by Rosemary Horrox
  • “Well-poisoning”
  • “A shortage of priests to hear confession”
  • “Rumors of Antichrist”
  • “Measures taken against the Jews in Lausanne”

Optional Resource for Lesson 3
Pulitzer Center lesson: Interviewing Techniques for Telling Under-reported Stories

    Standards:

    TEKS WH.4F: explain how the Crusades, the Black Death, and the Hundred Years’ War contributed to the end of Medieval Europe.

    TEKS WH.28B:  Explain how historians analyze sources for frame of reference, historical context, and point of view to interpret historical events

    TEKS WH.28C:  Analyze primary and secondary sources to determine frame of reference, historical context, and point of view 

    TEKS WH.28D:  Evaluate the validity of a source based on bias, corroboration with other sources, and information about the author

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