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Heterogeneous Immunological Landscapes and Medieval Plague: An Invitation to a New Dialogue Between Historians and Immunologists

Fabian Crespo

Fabian Crespo is a biological anthropologist specializing in human evolutionary immunology. In 2001, he moved from the University of Buenos Aires to the Department of Anthropology at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, where he began to develop the working hypothesis that different pathogenic experiences in the past have shaped the immune systems in different human populations. Since 2010, two experiences have greatly influenced this research: his participation in the Global History of Health Project at the Ohio State University, and the NEH Summer Seminar, “Health and Disease in the Middle Ages,” directed by Dr. Monica Green and Dr. Rachel Scott, in 2012. He is currently working on the Black Death’s impact on the immune systems of human populations and testing the potential role of cross immunity in the decline of medieval leprosy in Europe. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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Matthem B. Lawrenz

Matthew B. Lawrenz is a microbiologist at the Center for Predictive Medicine for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, at the University of Louisville’s School of Medicine. He is interested in understanding how bacterial pathogens are able to infect and cause disease in humans, and since 2003 he has been studying the interactions between Yersinia pestis (the bacterium that causes human plague) and mammalian hosts. Specifically, Dr. Lawrenz’s laboratory works to identify the factors that allow Y pestis to cause disease and to understand how the bacillus is able to avoid detection and elimination by the innate immune system (i.e., by macrophages). Dr. Lawrenz’s long-term goal is to use the information from these studies to aid in the design of new vaccines and therapeutic treatments to combat bacterial infection. Prior to his work with Y pestis, Dr. Lawrenz studied Lyme Disease, an emerging bacterial infection that is transmitted by ticks, and helped develop the serological test used to diagnosis this infection. In 2012, Dr. Lawrenz began collaborating with Dr. Crespo to understand the potential impact of the Black Death on the evolution of the immune system in human populations. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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The Medieval Globe : Pandemic Disease in the Medieval World: Rethinking the Black Death

Arc Medieval Press, 2014



... microbiologist G. B. Mackaness clearly pointed out that the process involved in the development of acquired immunity also depends on the “state of immunological reactivity” of the host (Mackaness 1964), or what we now refer to as IC. As we...