Shelby Heitner ’14 spent time examining the bubonic plague and its effects on 14th century English society during her trip to London, England as a recipient of the Junior Summer Fellowship.
Heitner met with Jelena Bekvalac, a curator at the Museum of London specializing in osteology, the scientific study of bones.
Heitner toured Bekvalac’s laboratory and discussed her research with the staff members there.
She learned about their efforts to recreate the bubonic plague bacteria and viewed the bones of some of the plague’s victims.
Bekvalac’s laboratory also has a partner research center in Canada, Heitner said.
“Those two labs are the only places in the world that are working on the Black Plague right now, so that’s pretty cool,” she said.
Heitner also used part of the $3,500 fellowship grant she recieved to tour museums and a series of sites in the area that were historically involved in the spread of the Black Plague.
“One area of London [I visited] was Hempstead, and it used to be called ‘The Veil of Health’ because all of the people who were rich enough during the time of the plague moved to this area, which happened to be farther than where the plague would reach,” Heitner said.
Heitner started to develop an interest in the Black Death after learning about it in her AP Biology and AP Human Geography classes.
Heitner said she had always been attracted to the study of English history, and decided that examining the Black Plague’s effects would allow her to achieve a deeper understanding of London’s past.
“The Black Plague [as we learned about it] in my science class was influencing the evolution of science and people’s migration,” Heitner said. “[A topic] that was touched upon in AP Human Geography was the development of diseases and how people were able to cope with that over time, which is what started my interest.”
The trip to England was also Heitner’s first time in Europe.
Heitner said she plans on continuing her study of the plague.
“I came back and I’m still reading books about it,” Heitner said. “I think it’s really fascinating…they’re still finding out new things so it’s definitely something I want to continue to learn about.”