How the Black Death Radically Changed the Course of History

And what that can teach us about the coronavirus’ potential to do the same

Steve LeVine
GEN
Published in
9 min readApr 2, 2020

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Illustration: Nick Sheeran

EEven before the Black Death, aka the plague, Europe had fallen on tough times: The 14th century began with a mini ice age and torrential rain, ruining crops and spreading starvation among tens of millions of serfs working hereditary land for nobles in a centuries-old feudal system overseen by the pope. Then came the plague, killing half the people across the continent.

By the time the plague wound down in the latter part of the century, the world had utterly changed: The wages of ordinary farmers and craftsmen had doubled and tripled, and nobles were knocked down a notch in social status. The church’s hold on society was damaged, and Western Europe’s feudal system was on its way out — an inflection point that opened the way to the Reformation and the even greater worker gains of the Industrial Revolution and beyond.

Will the virus dramatically alter how we live, work, and socialize the way 9/11 has — and the way global pandemics of the past did?

Since Covid-19 broke out three months ago, experts and politicians have said that it’s unprecedented or, when…

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Steve LeVine
GEN
Writer for

Editor at Large, Medium, covering the turbulence all around us, electric vehicles, batteries, social trends. Writing The Mobilist. Ex-Axios, Quartz, WSJ, NYT.