The Strange Dancing Plague of 1518 with Dr. Finn Ballard

The Strange Dancing Plague of 1518 with Dr. Finn Ballard


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In 1518, the citizens of the Holy Roman Empire city of Strasbourg began one by one, to partake in a silent dance. And so they kept dancing - for weeks. This seminar will explore this intriguing moment in history.

In July of 1518, one year before Martin Luther's theses would be pasted to the door of the Strasbourg Cathedral, a young woman began a solitary, silent dance through the streets of the city. Others began to join her. Soon dozens - then hundreds - were dancing tirelessly. Doctors, a bishop, and a magistrate could not force the cessation of this seeming outbreak of mass hysteria - nor could multiple deaths.

What was the cause of this mania for dance? Was it the consumption of the ergot fungus, now attributed by some historians to be the true cause of the intoxication experienced by those believed to be 'bewitched,' and at the root of the modern psychotropic LSD? Or was it an outbreak of mass psychosis, caused by the hardships of peasant life in Early Modern Europe and the stress brought on by epidemic and disease, immediately prior to the Protestant Reformation?

In this seminar, we will look at the history of choreomania throughout medieval Europe - particularly in the Plague era - and in the Berlin of the 1920s. We will also have a look at Strasbourg, a city in one of the most beautiful regions of Europe: formerly part of the Holy Roman Empire, located at the modern-day French-German border, and the seat of the European Parliament.

Led by an expert on German social history, Dr. Finn Ballard, this interactive seminar will open your eyes to a lesser-known collective phenomenon of the Modern era. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased awareness of the psychological pressures experienced by medieval Europeans - which might not be so very different from our own today.

Finn grew up in Northern Ireland before moving to England to study and later teach in the department of Film and Literature at the University of Warwick. He completed his doctoral study on German folklore and popular cinema in 2012, and has published extensively in the fields of Film Studies and Gender Studies. Since 2008, he has been living and guiding in Berlin. He now works as a historical advisor for television and film productions set in Berlin, particularly during the Weimar era or Third Reich. He is a journalist for the 'Siegessauele', Europe's foremost Queer magazine, and organises events at Berlin's English-language bookstore 'Another Country'.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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