I am reading a poem called Piers Plowman with my undergraduates this semester. It is an apocalyptic dream vision from the fourteenth century. The author, William Langland, lived through the Black Death, which ripped through Eurasia and killed one in three people in England. More than once, Langland refers to the present with the phrase “since the time of the pestilence.” Plague divides before and after.

We are in a fourteenth-century time warp, living through another pandemic originating in Asia and laying waste to Europe. Although this plague is less deadly than the Black Death, it has globalization on its side. The Black Death took ten years to reach Europe; coronavirus took two months. The Black Death took six centuries to reach the west coast of North America; coronavirus took. . .two months. Time accelerates. Our connections to each other are killing us.

In graduate school, reading scholarship on fourteenth-century England, I learned how the plague shattered political and social institutions, leaving a generation to cobble together some compromise between what was remembered and what was desired. I learned how plagues shape time. Now I feel it.

Time is standing still, and time is moving very quickly. [read more]

Public Seminar 10 April 2020