Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Justin Hicks Moderates 75th Anniversary Roundtable "Post-Pandemic Labor Markets"

Author: Annie Killian and Lucy Grinnan

Post Pandemic Labor Markets roundtable speakers
From top left to bottom right: panelists Dan Graff, Tamara Kay; moderator Justin Hicks; panelist Dan Hobbins

The Black Death, or bubonic plague, disrupted local economies and labor markets throughout the medieval world in the mid-fourteenth century. That history provides context for understanding our experience of the current global COVID-19 pandemic.

On October 1, 2021, the Medieval Institute hosted a roundtable on the subject, "Post-Pandemic Labor Markets," in which panelists explored current perceptions of labor shortages by comparing what we see today with the Black Death’s impact on medieval work conditions and subsequent labor statutes.

This interdisciplinary discussion brought together University of Notre Dame academics Daniel Hobbins (Ph.D '02), Associate Professor of History and MI Faculty Fellow; Daniel Graff, Professor of the Practice of History and Director of the Higgins Labor Program; and Tamara Kay, Professor of Global Affairs and Sociology.

Justin Hicks, the Indiana Workforce Development Reporter for 88.1 WPVE Public Radio, moderated the discussion of the complex effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on workers, trade, and labor unions. 

Gilles Li Muisis, image of plague burials
Depiction of the burial of plague victims in Tournai, from the Chronicon majus and Chronicon minus of Gilles Li Muisis (1272–1352; abbot of the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Martin in Tournai), in Brussels, Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, MS 13076-77, folio 24v. Via Getty Images.

Fascinating parallels today to the medieval Black Death include cities' mandating quarantines to contain the plague and passing statutes to keep wages from rising.

Professor Hobbins also noted the seemingly universal human impulse to blame contagion on specific communities—in the Middle Ages, on Jews and lepers, and today on people of Asian descent.

If you weren't able to attend, or want to listen again, you can access this roundtable through the 88.1 WPVE Public Radio All IN podcast of the event, "The Black Death, Labor Markets, and Lessons from Our Past," or watch the video of the roundtable on our YouTube channel.