Historian and academic James Belich has a large body of work, focusing particularly on the New Zealand Wars and Maori and Pakeha relations. His book The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict (1980), won the international Trevor Reed Memorial Prize for historical scholarship. In 2006 he was made an Officer of New Zealand Order of Merit. Professor Belich is currently Beit Professor of Imperial and Commonwealth History Balliol College, Oxford. He will be giving a lecture at the University of Auckland on March 21 called "The Black Death and European Expansion", which argues the plague pandemic beginning on the 1340s fuelled wider European control and influence across the globe. He first made the argument in a recent book, The Prospect of Global History (Oxford University Press, 2016).
United States


00:00:00in the mid fourteen th century black death killed %HESITATION I thought a third of the population of Europe in the space of two years a catastrophe of course that counter intuitively New Zealand historian James Bella Jackie is that the plague woes %HESITATION in fact allowing a huge expansion
00:00:23in European global influence empire builders it was a good thing between fourteen fifteen and nineteen forty European controlled expanded from five percent to eighty percent of the planet and professor bell it saves the plague paradox improves life for this violence he's well known of course for his books
00:00:46and research into New Zealand history he's professor of imperial and Commonwealth his street value %HESITATION collagen ox but at the moment he's on sabbatical in New Zealand and he will deliver a lecture later this month at the university of Auckland all the topic of the black death any
00:01:01areas now hello hello can why did you choose this double the black death to study well it's it's is more logic to it and it seems %HESITATION contested area it's very congested area very dangerous areas stories to them into six and I'll send you the scholarship and you
00:01:19still don't know the answer to today's science that's right my my quest was to try to understand why the little continent of Europe %HESITATION went global and %HESITATION the terribly traumatic get influential way that it did and so I I tracked it back from the nineteenth century where
00:01:36I began working through things like New Zealand wars and %HESITATION non European resistance to European expansion back come back come back until I finally reached the late Middle Ages and found what I thought and still think is the %HESITATION the key to understanding the problem which is the
00:01:55the strange pressure cooking of feet of the labor shortages that the black death brought about sell it if you have a labor shortage because so many let's we'll get some basics dosage side half the population could have died from the black death that's the current the current evidence
00:02:14indicates that it's it's fifty percent not thirty three percent or twenty five percent and that you know that doesn't mean if you groceries you still to fifty percent chance of dying that's like take a town one in two people died that front wound and when we we cannot
00:02:34well the the the statistics based in certain regions and yet they're old Philly soft but they've been some some massive databases build up about this in England northern Italy and Scandinavia in particular and in those regions the evidence for half the population dying with at least a couple
00:02:56of decades the black death is very strong and date so the probability is that we are looking at a fifty percent de it's right across the board variations of course yeah but this is a kind of rough rough average and the other curious thing while the other new
00:03:12development and research is that a series of Lisa plagues followed the black death of around thirteen fifty and kicked Europe's population lows until about fifteen hundred the same disease but Justin there is way the same disease in a succession of waves which kicked Europe's population about half its
00:03:31normal level at the very time that European expansion begins so how would that have helped European expansion anyone imagines European expansion pot to place because people want to use space and lands on our this is the paradox and it's it's deeply counterintuitive but need a lease %HESITATION the
00:03:52evidence is good that %HESITATION the death of half the population suddenly doubles the per capita Shia of everything of housing of mill sights of ships of ship yards all of gold of silver off %HESITATION your fixed capital of all kinds so suddenly the average %HESITATION affluence of Europeans
00:04:18is double now the increases Dimond full exotics and extracted zigzag X. like silks and spices an extract of slight while products and confessions lose and you can actually track Europe's demand for these products increasing thirst capita and then absolutely from the early fifteenth century and so you've got
00:04:41Novgorodians and must Muscovites going across the Urals after foos after sables you've got masks and and an English going across the north Atlantic after called fission wiles and you've got Genoese sponsored Portuguese and Spanish going across the south Atlantic looking for new sugar lanes and new slaving grounds
00:05:03because life is now so shorts are slaves become much more important and so you actually get Europe on its way to the Americas in three directions long before Columbus in fourteen ninety two the reduction of the amount of land under cultivation would have been one result of the
00:05:22black death electrons that would have meant a shortage of food would not know because you would draw water the most versatile like his you abandon the modulators which you no longer need and and and you withdraw to the beast watered most fertile soils and and you use the
00:05:40I. because you've abandoned you don't let them of it too to woodland normally with %HESITATION some do but you can you can visit them to posture so you have more animals more wool more dairy products more horses more beef and you still producing capita more grain than you
00:05:57will before but you're doing it with fewer acres and with least labor input because you using capital instead of life so %HESITATION you use more on tools for example use more horses instead of oxen so although the absolute quantity of farmland does decrease the the the blade the
00:06:17productivity of the remaining acres increases war is the news bit off the theory that you want anting because other historians have said that this war was in some way a good thing for some people at the time a minority of historians of seed that once it's still a
00:06:38big debate between the optimist in the pessimists %HESITATION an arm on the side of the optimists and I try to adjudicate test but what's really news is that I argue that the situation also thank you bye it's what I call an expansion kit that consists of things like
00:06:54guns and sailing ships now India and China have guns and silent trips but did they have the plank note I argue they didn't some people argue they did in the fourteenth century the black the did get plague eventually in the seventeenth century but not in the fourteenth they
00:07:12didn't have the black death and I'm not the only one that I use that that's another new development of the evidence but what happens is that the labor shortage %HESITATION in in in Europe forces the to develop Beata guns and pizza sailing ships which the Chinese and Indians
00:07:30when they encounter them admit out better than their own and seek to obtain but for various reasons why is that why does it forced them to tonight Basha ships okay that that it's it did get a wee bit complicated but he take take the chips for example right
00:07:47you know you you've got sailing ships and you've got old ships mostly before the black death when you're taking ships of the tricky waters like then we'll see you'll use what's called a great galley which either a great galley which has two hundred was meant as insurance which
00:08:03is extremely expensive use I was most of the time but you got those woman was when they're in case of country wins or leave school you ought to do that for you have very simple ships cogs with one must that only style in the prime season okay after
00:08:19the back teeth you've lost half you Silas the cost of labor is enormous so you try to develop ships that don't need was a tool and that more generalised studio and capable of silent all waters which with much more complex sailing planes and eventually through fusion of me
00:08:35to train in a North Sea techniques you get the galleon which is a long range lodge warship what let's not mystery warship but along when ship that can go anywhere at any time now sometimes at six but usually it doesn't so the Europeans and the Europeans alone conduct
00:08:52any we at any time now Chinese junks might be faster signing on a monsoon went unnoticed studi and a lot of well armed with cannon so win %HESITATION European ships and counter Chinese ships the Europeans initially when the in the Chinese leaders such as Koxinga develop comparable techniques
00:09:12and match the Europeans but then the pressure goes off because the mind Chinese problem is fighting with Mongol like nine minutes to the north don't you know the guns aren't as important to them and they don't have the constant pressure of plague reducing the labor supply so they
00:09:28don't have that pressure cooking that plague in juices on technology that the Europeans have and and and that incubation develops a capacity to project power long range with small numbers that is a characteristic of European expansion improves things like forts armor and a variety of other things as
00:09:52well and improves guns and so it means that you can get the small conquistadors like groups that go out with tiny numbers and helped by the fact that they bring in introduced diseases in the Americas they're not in China Africa will India %HESITATION they they're able to overcome
00:10:08via steam pause like the S. sticks in the end because now this is very peculiar it's not a function alt any intrinsic European superiority of racial superiority court institutional superiority it's a function of historical contingency brought about by the incubating pressure of the black keys still that incubation
00:10:29pressure could have brought about superiority I can understand why you are this to saying that but never the less it could be argued couldn't well in in terms of guns and ships %HESITATION the Chinese and the Indians would be the first to admit that it did bring about
00:10:45superiority in terms of guns and **** but not any intrinsic human superiority you know if the Chinese were able to match this when they really tried stirs the didn't have the same incentive to try all the time that Europeans hit what you didn't get the black death and
00:11:01wine in terms of countries well the the what what the black death is not just a little outbreak of bubonic plague as you now get in Madagascar and so on tragic as it does for the communities that are the flights it's a massive pandemic that recycles and keeps
00:11:21recycling for %HESITATION well three hundred years or more why didn't people become immune to it it's not the kind of disease that generates immunity it might generate resistance in rats and fleas but it doesn't generate immunity in humans suspect serial right here now we know it doesn't generate
00:11:38community because casualty rates in performance in seventeen twenty a very similar to those of thirteen forty the thirteen forty thirty forty eight thirteen forty so %HESITATION %HESITATION it doesn't generate community but what it does do is recycle through through trade sits so you you it wipes out right
00:11:59you see so regions have to be re populated with black credits the was it the was a theory not so long ago that it that it that it wasn't spread by rats it was spread by human fleas and lice your an advocate of direct theory %HESITATION it's interesting
00:12:16isn't the the the media the press in the in the U. K. is really keen to defend the on the red you know it's got a commendable sympathy for the under it and every time someone wants to lick right off hook it goes with it I thought I
00:12:30think on balance the evidence is that the main victims all of the black death were black rats and the fleas okay they want the only victims other insects that could %HESITATION %HESITATION could could convey that human fleas could do it lice could do it other kinds of fleas
00:12:51could do it but they weren't very good at it it so happened that the the rest flee the black creek flea was the one that the the black death pathogen develop the capacity to block and these blocked fleas would regurgitate huge amounts of the pathogen into the potential
00:13:09victim and therefore they distributed black death the destructive plague on a scale and often with an intensity that other victims didn't match I know history historians are reluctant to ascribe cause and effect and it's it's never that simple but you didn't seem to be used do you went
00:13:31back with sometimes and say okay what would things have been like if the black death it never happened is that we have today you you were trying not to be sort of more of course yeah %HESITATION ands and also to %HESITATION to be suspicious of counterfactual history the
00:13:50kind you describe how her son now have the phone now and they are sometimes fun but I think this could be taken to fun and you know of perhaps some perhaps tech to sleep competed the attitude of many historians to %HESITATION to the black death to attempting to
00:14:07rights %HESITATION live in history of twentieth century Harashima without the ball you know you've got a situation in the fourteenth century we turn off your people disappear man now how could this not have a major effect any very many historians claim that it didn't have a major effect
00:14:27now I think that the ones who have the explanatory problem I mean there are times when you get something pretty close to a must a variable that Rita %HESITATION but they you know there's no rule that they can never could muster the area below motives that may affect
00:14:44to that kind of leads the calls were metrics so you know it's not the only the black death wasn't the only because of European XP of your extraordinary expansion but it was the kind of leader of the coals will flee to mutually side and %HESITATION I think that's
00:15:00a that's an interesting conclusion and I think it's one that challenges European conceit yes as you as you suggested alea these thank bass in the fourteenth century life was sufficiently precarious for the black death to be just another damn thing or was it so catastrophic that it changed
00:15:22people's cheats mass psychology somewhere between the two %HESITATION the the the %HESITATION I think to change attitudes to risk so if Europe if you're a sailor in Lisbon and %HESITATION the fifteen hundreds and you you're deciding whether to to to to go on a voyage to India %HESITATION
00:15:44you'll you'll friends tell you that the the death rate is fifty percent a year amongst people who go to India and why would you go because if you start in Lisbon you know and it struck by plague you might dive place anyway and if you go to Indy
00:15:59you've got at least a chance of making a fortune so I think it does change attitudes to risk in that sense at the same time people do show an incredible resilience they get on with life it's not the same kind of life but they get on with it
00:16:13%HESITATION and the fact that %HESITATION strikes after the black death itself around thirteen fifty because few of the Teletubbies than the black death means that people can hope that it's giving beta as it were infected can occasionally strikes do give up fifty percent death right well after thirteen
00:16:33fifty but that quite like that become increasingly read as often happens in response to war %HESITATION people have more children did that happen after that fist impacted the black death I think it did although this this some debate about that about the European marriage Patton that's quite a
00:16:52complicated to bite medieval history but most of the evidence suggests that after each strike of play do you have what some people call and not actual frenzy zero new marriages yes as new couples form to replace those of that have been checked by plague and there is a
00:17:08huge spike in birth rates and an Ameritrade soon and birth rates after each %HESITATION each struck but it's not enough to pull back the death rates from the plague strikes so high birth rates a back when high death rates until about fifteen hundred and it's only after that
00:17:27that the birth rates gradually drawer heat of the threats mom somebody texted me to say given your upcoming conversation with James bellage %HESITATION the wood quarantine comes from the Italian for full she which was supposedly the incubation period for the black to and you knew that of course
00:17:49I did not know that's fabulous factors in it walls forty days countering forty days is too long for incubation period as well %HESITATION this argument about that and I did try thirty days it reverts gently but and it never worked perfectly but it did it as a rule
00:18:04of thumb for you guys to book you could allow for %HESITATION the the the plague to infect the entire rack population wreck fleas professor rex to humans so they'll they'll stick to the rats while I can and it's only when the right styles that they'll jump to lease
00:18:20tasty humans so you allow time for that annual out time for the development within the human body which is usually about a week of that there are some fast cons and then for a week to ten days to death if you adult to until death and then you
00:18:33add all this up and it does come pretty close to forty days and this of course means this is one of the arguments against the black death reaching China and India because voyages to China and India took longer than forty days and similarly voyages to the Americas usually
00:18:48took longer than forty days so that everybody would have internet yet the plague didn't reach the Americas until the advent of the steam ship the long range steam ship in the late nineteenth century so the plague doesn't reach the Americans with those you know there there's a bit
00:19:02of arguing about that but not much %HESITATION and if it doesn't go global until steam ships allow the transportation of rats fast long range it's going to be fast because otherwise the infected rats in the infected people will die but that presumably would still be able to be
00:19:19in factions even though dent not that well you know the for the with the fleas comfy they die pretty quickly took they can hide tonight but not once that %HESITATION blocked what other things other about the black death that fascinates you too you well one of the consequences
00:19:36was it to fit dorm on labor history %HESITATION you know it it it gave it gave for appeared at least it gave Lucas more rights and more leverage because they were ripped and imagine the feudal system with a broken up anyway I did it in accelerate the breakout
00:19:55absolutely yeah to accelerate the break up of the particular in western Europe %HESITATION but what it meant was that you get the emergence of what I call the crew culture of wondering mile workers who are pretty %HESITATION pretty tough and brutal types %HESITATION and they come from regions
00:20:10which no longer grow their own grain so the kind of surplus to local requirements in terms of work force so they go out into the world and they hunt whales in the hunt they tracked food when they act to silence and soldiers %HESITATION and that the cutting edge
00:20:25of European expansion %HESITATION and also there's a big turn in the slave trade as a consequence from either you persuade people to work for you or you force people to with few slides I would have existed before that anyway it did exist but in Europe it was kind
00:20:40of dying out and the %HESITATION the black death fist gives it an Indian summer and the entrance to lose it from Europe itself to West Africa it is free James and %HESITATION science what sets a craft %HESITATION yeah it's it's it's a craft %HESITATION ands %HESITATION it's it's
00:21:03not a science but it does need to engage with science because a lot of its new evidence is coming from science these days yeah I mean a lot of what I've just said to you comes from very recent genomic genetic DNA evidence which is Hennings who died of
00:21:18walks that's right and it's coming out all the time so the the the tough uses not necessarily bad that historians and scientists have to stop talking to each other and they don't really understand each other's languages yet which means it's a fairly exciting new frontier because of DNA
00:21:36essentially not just United is also topic evidence there's this new forms of archaeological evidence we can take things with non intrusive you can look at some precious objects with by just taking tiny fraction of them to analyze in a way that you didn't used to be able to
00:21:51so these forms of new evidence in Richard the field of history not just ancient history but also medieval and modern history %HESITATION and that creating a need for historians and scientists to engage you rising you had it at a chapter in a recent book called the prospect of
00:22:08global history on the black death in spite of your original book bash now that shortly at %HESITATION is it possible that something like the black death could it can now something so %HESITATION catastrophic I'm well you can't you can't eliminate the possibility I mean Ebola has been very
00:22:29scary hasn't it that it hasn't Eunice sweat the Wilder nor what death stage one hopes that you you want to have that kind of thing because why not I mean you would think that we would be so more power into it because we travel so much more and
00:22:43we are so much up living in such close contact with one another the population's high at one was the black death so you can't just to fit in well I mean the the people had no idea no idea at all until nineteen hundred combat had disease problem about
00:23:04how does he spend what the causal factor in the black death what's that in our rates were involved until nineteen hundred so you didn't know what you were defending against the the power of states in of technology to quarantine two and speak to survey has greatly increased anti
00:23:21biotics and various other medical advances mean that even the play can be handled none of this is to say that %HESITATION a new %HESITATION a new black death as it would is completely impossible but one hopes that it's unlikely how long you gonna be Iraq's the full other
00:23:39still retirement date the is so wrong or be there for another five years or so I mentioned and then back home to New Zealand yeah are you enjoying dreaming spinous yes I am Oxfords a remarkable place and it's %HESITATION you know bail colleges founded in the mid thirteenth
00:23:55century a hundred years before the black death %HESITATION which increased job opportunities at Oxford and Cambridge %HESITATION but so it's no it's it's it's a very interesting place to be I mean and in the midst of from our exit and so on it's it's some fifty problematic but
00:24:11some it's been great being back in New Zealand over this last summer yeah yeah you looking well rested somewhat ten minutes from that must be interesting actually working in a place that is older than the aerial studying it's I mean the gives you a different perspective on time
00:24:35doesn't it does it does %HESITATION but New Zealanders have been going to us from Cambridge for a very long time and %HESITATION that had quite an influence there it's it's kind of them doing a Samuel Marston and with this and try to educate the English in return for
00:24:49their attempts to them to educate us and has that gang not well it's very nice to talk to you thank you professor James bellage whose book on the back to visually out but he's giving a public let China's human James at the university will come later this month
00:25:06on the topic of the black death in Europe and %HESITATION details of that on a web page

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