The Age of Plague: Medicine, Society and Epidemics, 1348 & Beyond | Pioneer

Pioneer Open Summer Study – POSS

Independent Study Details

The Age of Plague: Medicine, Society and Epidemics, 1348 & Beyond

In 2020, COVID-19 has led to global awareness that epidemic disease is hardly a thing of the past. How have societies risen to the challenge of earlier epidemic and pandemic diseases? This seminar takes the example of plague, which affected many late medieval and early modern societies, transforming their understanding of disease, raising questions of the efficacy of medicine, and challenging them to conceive of the idea of public health. How did disease additionally alter perceptions of society and its values?


Pioneer Open Summer Study (POSS) is completely independent from the Pioneer Research Program. Students who participate in POSS CANNOT list POSS as a Pioneer Research Program credit in their college applications for the following reasons:

  • POSS students do not undergo the Pioneer Research Program’s rigorous admissions process.
  • Student POSS projects will NOT be considered as Pioneer Research Program’s work because they are not scrutinized through Pioneer’s academic procedures and standards. Pioneer thus can NOT provide records endorsing the work’s authenticity and quality for POSS participants in their college applications.
  • Students with POSS experience will not receive a grade or certificate from Pioneer, regardless of what personal opinion the professor holds about the study projects.
  •  POSS is NOT college credit bearing as the Pioneer Research Program is.

About the Study


This program emphasizes critical thinking, careful reading, contextual analysis, and the development of good research and presentation skills.  We will look closely at the age of plague as a case study to stimulate our understanding of modern epidemics and pandemics as well as the long afterlife of the “Black Death.”  What are the myths and realities, the science and the culture, the short-term effects and long-term consequences of disease on society?

Paula Findlen is Ubaldo Pierotti Professor of Italian History and is Director of the Suppes Center for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at Stanford University.   Her research and teaching focuses on the early history of science and medicine as well as understanding the Italian Renaissance.  A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Professor Findlen has been the recipient of numerous fellowships, including a Fulbright and Guggenheim.  Her most recent publications include Leonardo’s Library:  The World of a Renaissance Reader and Empires of Knowledge:  Scientific Networks in the Early Modern World.  She is the 2016 recipient of the Premio Galileo for her contributions to understanding Italian science and culture.

Time: 7:30pm~8:45pm EDT
Dates: July 3; July 10; July 17; July 24; July 31
Recording posted date: each Tuesday after the weekend class


Week 1-4: reading and discussion; identifying a collaborative research topic; developing research skills
Week 5:  10-minute presentations by each of the five teams, with time for questions from the other teams

Each team of students will develop and present a collaborative research project related to the history of epidemics and pandemics that will analyze how medicine and society respond to disease.  Your project will take two forms:  (1) a 10-minute presentation in week 5; and (2) a ca. 12-15 pages (Times Roman, 12 point font, double-spaced) written presentation with each student being responsible for researching and writing a 2-page section and the entire group writing the introduction and conclusion together, and assembling the bibliography that supports their research.


To be eligible to participate in Pioneer Open Summer Study, the following requirements must be met:

  • Teams must have a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 10 students.
  • Participating students should be in grades 9 through 12.  For Scheduled Participation teams, at least two team members and the Captain of the team must be in 10th or 11th grade.
  • The Captain needs to get a teacher to sign as the observer. In some cases, Pioneer may offer additional support from alumni of the research program, and in such cases, Pioneer may have to prioritize the Pioneer alumni support to 10th and 11th grade teams if the demand for support exceeds support resources.
  • Each team must have one team member serve as the team Captain. The Captain’s responsibility is to ensure team formation, team attendance, timely completion of the work, communication with high school faculty observer, and all other coordination.
  • Each team is required to get its school guidance counselor or school faculty to sign a written consent to check in for at least three updates on a study group.
  • Scheduled Participation teams have to be committed to attending a set schedule of the online classes. The detailed schedules will be released in June. The time commitment requirement may work best for students with flexibility in the summer.
  • If any member of a Scheduled Participation team is late for or misses up to two Scheduled Participation classes, or if a Scheduled Participation team as a whole misses one Scheduled class, the team then loses its Scheduled Participation eligibility.
  • All teams need to behave and communicate academically and appropriately. Inappropriate language or communication will lead to termination of participation.
  • Because Pioneer is offering this program at no cost, Pioneer does not guarantee any result or outcome from participation or any service or support. Pioneer is not responsible for conflict, failure or anxiety among the study teams related to POSS.
  • During the self-directed independent study stage, Pioneer Research Program alumni, who have previously done research in similar fields of study with the Pioneer Research Program, may hold online office hours to help students answer questions. Team Captains or designated members are required attend any online office hours meeting that they schedule.
  • Each Scheduled Participation team will most likely be required to give a final presentation and the recording of the presentation will be uploaded on POSS-designated web space. Team members may be able to include the link to the presentation in their college applications.
  • Each Self-Paced team is required to upload a final presentation recording on the POSS designated web space. POSS participants may be able to choose to add the link to their college application. POSS presenters are encouraged to invite Pioneer Research alumni, school friends or school teachers and counselors to attend the presentation.