One of my pet peeves in plague historiography is the name of the third pandemic. None of the plague pandemics have the most logical name. The Black Death is a misnomer that came about centuries after the pandemic. It conjures images that are not realistic of plague deaths. The plague of Justinian is probably named better since it started during his reign and is best recorded by writers in Roman territory. And then there is the third pandemic….. it doesn’t even get a name. Blah.
So I would like to make some suggestions for the ‘third pandemic’. If we want to be politically correct and non-offensive to anyone, then perhaps the Global Plague Pandemic since this was the first plague to reach every inhabited continent and seeded new territory in North and South America. I actually prefer the Victorian Pandemic or the Plague of Victoria (or British Empire). Plague first catches world attention when it strikes British Hong Kong and British territory in China and India have the worst mortality. Afterall, Victoria crowned herself Empress of India. Further it was the Victorian economic network that spread plague around the world. This follows the naming pattern of the Justinian pandemic and, although not contiguous, the British Empire was perhaps as dominant as the Roman Empire in its day. Or is there a better name for the third pandemic? Let me know what you think in the comments.
Defining what a plague pandemic actually is, is another whole quagmire. These names really should only reflect the first couple years of the outbreak when a continuous network of transmission can be plausibly reconstructed. It is now generally recognized that the Black Death did not last 400 years. About 18 “waves” of plague have been identified for the Justinian plague. I fully expect that aDNA will confirm that some of these secondary “waves” of both the first and second pandemic were pandemics in their own right (with distinctive genetic signatures). I really expect that aDNA from biovar medievalis (branch 2) will be found in Europe or North Africa at some point. Wether we define pandemics genetically or historically may be the post-plague identity academic argument. That is a way off yet though, since unfortunately the identity war doesn’t seem to be finally settled yet (though the way forward seems quite clear to me), but that is a topic for another day.