Not Just One Vector
By Catharine Niuzzo Honaman and Sara Chavarria

Time: 3 classes
Preparation Time: 1 hour to read lesson and make copies of materials
Materials: Trade Routes Matrix II
Map of medieval world trade routes
Topographical map of the world
List of goods exported from different regions of the medieval world

In this lesson students will learn about the multiple vectors involved in the spread of disease and see how a community would be exposed to numerous diseases as the wealthiest citizens imported the best and most exotic of what the medieval world had to offer. Students will work in small groups looking at what foods/spices, clothing/cloth, and ornamental/furniture items well-to- do families living in various locations around the world may have imported in the Middle Ages. The students will trace the path these items traveled in greater detail than in the Explore Lesson.

Purpose – This is the Explain Lesson. Students will glimpse the complexity of tracking the origin and path of a disease infecting a targeted area.

Students will be able to:
1. Read a map with accuracy.
2. Synthesize information from various sources, both written and visual, to create an accurate picture of how disease transmission and trade were interwoven in medieval life.
3. Create a plausible explanation for a problem from multiple sources of information, none of which contain the exact answer.

English Education Standards
Strand 2: Comprehending Literary Text
Concept 2: Functional Text: Identify, analyze, and apply knowledge of the
purpose, structures, clarity, and relevancy of functional text.
• PO 1. Synthesize information from multiple sources to solve a problem.

Teacher Background
Ability to read maps.

Related and Resource Websites
http://www.cas.muohio.edu/~stevenjr/mbi111/impact111.html (History of infectious disease)
http://www.thedoctorwillseeyounow.com/articles/other/tb_10/index.shtml (A very good description of the history and biology of tuberculosis)
http://www.globalcomment.com/science&technology/article_14.asp (An extremely interesting comparison of the state of medicine in the medieval world in Europe and the Islamic countries)
http://www.britannica.com/nobel/micro/609_90.html (All about typhus which is different from typhoid fever)



1. Depending on the number of students in your class, divide the class into groups of two or three. The lesson contains information for eleven groups. Each group will be given a copy of the Trade Routes Matrix II to fill out and will choose (or be assigned) a location. The eleven locations for the families are:

Seville or Granada

2. Each group must look at their city and imagine what the life of a wealthy family would be like in the Middle Ages. What foods/spices, clothing/cloth, and ornamental/furniture items might a wealthy family buy from traders? The students must choose an item from each of the three categories that come from different places in the world. They will be able to do this by using the list of goods exported from different regions of the medieval world that was used in the Explore Lesson.

3. Then using the map of medieval world trade routes and the topographical map of the world (also from the Explore Lesson), the students will trace the route that each item took while also identifying two intermediary places that the item would have gone through in transit. This is important not just in understanding how complicated trade routes were or could have been, but also in seeing that with each port or stop in a land journey, new contagions would be encountered and possibly picked up by the traders, the sailors, and/or the members of a caravan. Depending on what the item of trade was, it could have also picked up a vector of disease, such as fleas in bolts of cloth.

4. Finally the students need to identify which port of entry the traders used when they arrived in the country of the wealthy family. This should help the students appreciate just how many opportunities disease vectors had to interact with the items of trade a wealthy family would take into their home and their lives.

5. As the students trace the routes that the various items of trade took ask the class to point out whenever that route had a Mediterranean city as a port of entry. This will help to highlight a point being made in the social studies lessons.

6. The activities described above should probably take the small group of students one class period to complete. These activities build on the work that was done in the Explore Lesson. Now students are investigating in greater detail how actual individuals would be exposed to a variety of diseases present, and running rampant, in the medieval world. The next two classes are for each group of students to make a presentation to the class as a whole about the information that they found about trade and the connections to the spread of infectious diseases.

Discuss with the students how the pivotal activity of international trade created life in the medieval world both in terms of the availability of material goods and how successfully infectious diseases traveled the globe. These infectious diseases became a part of everyday reality for people living far from the initial areas of outbreak. Ask the students to begin to think about how a scientist and a historian would look at this same aspect of medieval life- trade- in very different lights.


Embedded Assessment
There are three areas in which student learning can be assessed for this lesson. The first area is participation in finding and filling out the information for the Trade Route Matrix II. While one student will probably do all the writing, the other two should be actively tracing routes on maps and looking up information key to the investigation being conducted. A second indicator of student learning would be the quality of the work done for the Trade Route Matrix II, and a third way to gauge learning would be how well the presentation of said work was given to the rest of the class.


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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