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Merle is a late antique, medieval, and environmental historian who investigates how people responded to end of the Roman Empire to shape their communities and create new medieval states. His research projects range from analyzing how rulers issued laws to build frameworks for their states to case studies of how climate change has affected pre-modern localities.
At SESYNC, his project is entitled The Making of a Pandemic: Plague, Environment, and the End of Antiquity. It examines the outbreak of the first great socio-ecological disaster in recorded human history: the first bubonic plague pandemic, commonly known as the Justinianic Plague (c. 541-750 CE). The Making of a Pandemic will investigate various types of evidence – written sources, archaeological, environmental, numismatic (coinage), epigraphic (inscriptions), and ancient DNA – that can be used to answer questions about the plague outbreak. His project will examine how the disease emerged, how it spread, where it lingered or disappeared, and what rate of mortality it caused. His work will synthesize environmental evidence alongside the historical narratives to create a new framework and model to understand the plague’s impact.
He has published a major revision of the existing catastrophic plague narrative in one of the foremost history journals, Past & Present, and has a forthcoming review article that surveys all the Justinianic Plague literature in Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies. If you are interested in an introduction to late antique environmental history, he has also published a broader survey article in Late Antique Archeology.