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Mizzou assistant professor speaks about the plague and Protestant Reformation at UCM

(WARRENSBURG, Mo.) – Kristy Wilson-Bowers, assistant professor of history at the University of Missouri-Columbia, gave a lecture on the plague and the Protestant Reformation at the University of Central Missouri this Tuesday.

Dan Crews, history professor at UCM, applied for the grant that made the lecture possible and organized the event along with Eric Tenbus, the history and anthropology department chair.

“I’ve known of her and her work. She’s a specialist on the plague and people may not realize this, but the plague reoccurs every 20 years,” Crews said. “The way the plague kept returning along with other diseases and the warfare, it’s part of the culture. The plague and the reformation are tied together.”

“I work with Dr. Crews and he got an application for an internal grant here at UCM. He used the money from that grant to bring Dr. Bowers here to UCM,” Tenbus said.

The lecture was organized because this year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther breaking off of the Catholic church after noticing abuses within the church. The church was selling indulgences that would cut down the time a person spent in purgatory.

“You don’t have many 500th anniversaries come up,” Tenbus said.

Luther wrote statements and then hammered them on the door of the Catholic church.

“For a Catholic priest to do that, that was rather monumental,” Tenbus said. “It sparked this reflection that turned into a movement that turned into a revolution. The reformation is really a revolution in the sense that a lot of Europeans decided to follow an alternative type of church which were called protestant churches, the root of the word being protest.”

Wilson-Bowers’ lecture was called “Dancing with Death: Plague and the Reformation” and she connected the two subjects by talking about religious problems after the plague.

“We have the plague playing into the reformation in lots of different ways, but when we think of the religious world, we don’t always think of the disease world,” Wilson-Bowers said during the lecture. “When we talk about the issue of medicine or the issue of disease, we don’t always put it back into some of these other social, religious, economic contexts, but they all fit in together, and there is this tremendous kind of overlap with the different influences.”

Wilson-Bowers ended the lecture by summarizing what the message of it was.

“Perhaps the overall message of Dance with Death is that individuals do survive, and communities do survive, and life does go on,” she said.

Crews said Wilson-Bowers was very qualified to speak on the subject of the plague.

“She has written and been published in medical journals. Historians aren’t usually considered that scientific,” he said.

Crews said he believes Wilson-Bowers will continue to do research and work with the subject of the reformation and plague.

“She’s got a good topic and she’s in a good position, so I expect that she’ll continue to produce,” Crews said.

“It’s important for the university because these are the kind of things that universities should be doing. Bringing in outside scholars or speakers to talk about things that provide value to learning,” Tenbus said. “What you learn at a university is not just in a classroom.”

This is the second lecture the history and anthropology has hosted this year. Tenbus said the department takes pride in being the medium for these types of events.

“This is an opportunity to bring someone from outside and we can bring them in because of our connections. If the department can be the medium in which we can do this, all the better,” he said.

Jack Noelker, a history major, said lectures like Wilson-Bowers’ adds depth to his learning experience by exposing him to a wider range of academic options that lead to a deeper understanding of subjects he’s learning.

“I really do think it’s important to host more lectures like this one because I feel like at best they can only serve to expand the knowledge of the students who attend, and at worst confirm what they have already learned,” Noelker said. “Professor Bowers was incredibly interesting to listen to, and if more scholars like her were to host lectures at UCM, I would probably go to every one.”

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