The Worst Year Ever

From UPI:

Think 2020 was bad? Historians say 536 was worst year ever to be alive

You wake up to a dark, dreary, glum-feeling, Monday-type of morning. For the 547th consecutive day. Just 18 months prior, you were a hard-working farmer gearing up for another bountiful crop season.

But then the skies went dark. From early 536 to 537, they stayed dark.

Across much of eastern Europe and throughout Asia, spring turned into summer and fall gave way to winter without a day of sunshine. Like a blackout curtain over the sun, millions of people across the world’s most populated countries squinted through dim conditions, breathing in chokingly thick air and losing nearly every crop they were relying on to harvest.

This isn’t the plot of a dystopian TV drama or a fantastical “docu-fiction” production. This was a harsh reality for the millions of people who lived through that literally dark time – or, as some historians have declared, the very worst year ever to be alive.

“For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during this whole year, and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear nor such as it is accustomed to shed,” was the grim account Procopius, a prominent scholar who became the principal Byzantine historian of the 6th century, gave in History of the Wars.

“And from the time when this thing happened men were free neither from war nor pestilence nor any other thing leading to death.”

Much more at the link. I was pleased to see the appearance of Michael McCormick, whom I got to see live at the Medieval Academy meeting in Atlanta three years ago. His team has deduced that two volcanic eruptions (one in Iceland, the other in El Salvador) were likely responsible for the prolonged darkness and cooling of 536-37 (although 2.5 degrees Celsius is not the equivalent of 36 degrees Fahrenheit, contrary to what the article suggests). (UPDATE: It’s now been corrected to “2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit.”). McCormick also points out that the poor harvests and displacement of people following this event likely contributed to the Plague of Justinian, which ravaged the Byzantine Empire in the 540s. An analysis of tooth pulp from plague victims has established that this disease was caused by Yersinia pestis, the same microbe responsible for the Black Death of the fourteenth century, which can kill up to 60% of the people who are infected by it.

Yeah, it sounds pretty bad – way worse than COVID….

Alfred W. Crosby, 1931-2018

From H-LatAm:

Alfred W. Crosby died peacefully at Nantucket Cottage Hospital among friends and family on March 14, 2018, after residing for two and a half years at Our Island Home. He was 87 and had lived with Parkinson’s Disease for two decades.

Born in Boston in 1931, he graduated from Harvard College in 1952 and served in the U.S. Army 1952-1955. He then earned an M.A.T. from the Harvard School of Education and a Ph.D. in history from Boston University in 1961. His first book, America, Russia, Hemp, and Napoleon, is about relations between Russia and the U.S.A. from the American Revolution through the War of 1812. He taught at Albion College, the Ohio State University, Washington State University, and the University of Texas at Austin, retiring in 1999 as Professor Emeritus of Geography, History, and American Studies. He was the recipient of many awards including three Fulbright Fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Academy of Finland and was a fellow of the John  Carter Brown Library.

His interest in demography and the role of infectious disease in human history led him to write The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492America’s Forgotten Pandemic (originally Epidemic and Peace 1918); and Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. His fascination with intellectual and technological history produced The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology Through History; and Children of the Sun: A History of Humanity’s Unappeasable Appetite for Energy. His books have been published in Chinese, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Slovene, Swedish, and Turkish translations.  His work as a historian, he said, turned him from facing the past to facing the future. He lived by the maxim: What can I do today to make tomorrow better?