Borsch, Stuart J. 1964-
Borsch, Stuart J. 1964-
Born 1964. Education: U.S. Naval Academy, B.S., 1986; Columbia University, M.I.A., 1993, M.Phil., 1996, Ph.D., 2002.
Office—Assumption College, 500 Salisbury St., Worcester, MA 01609.
Historian, author, and scholar. Assumption College, Worcester, MA, assistant professor, 2002—.
The Black Death in Egypt and England: A Comparative Study, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 2005.
Contributor to books, including Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. Contributor to periodicals, including the Mamluk Studies Review and Comparative Studies in Society & History.
Stuart J. Borsch is a historian, author, and scholar. He began his academic career by attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, earning a B.S. there in 1986. Afterwards, Borsch attended Columbia University, where he earned an M.I.A. in international politics in 1993, and an M.Phil. and Ph.D. in history in 1996 and 2002, respectively. Upon receiving his Ph.D., Borsch began teaching as an assistant professor in history at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, a post he still held as of 2008. As a faculty member there, Borsch has taught courses on Islam in the Middle East from 600 to the present day, and also on the Byzantine empire and Western civilization (both premodern and modern periods). Throughout his career, Borsch has contributed to such periodicals as the Mamluk Studies Review and Comparative Studies in Society & History. He has also contributed to such books as Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. His first solo full-length publication, however, was not published until 2005.
Borsch's The Black Death in Egypt and England: A Comparative Study looks at the Middle Ages in Egypt and England, comparing and contrasting the varying outcomes of the plague in each country. Though the two countries would not seem to be candidates for such a comparison, Borsch points out that England is an island and Egypt is comparable to this because it is bordered by uninhabitable desert on all sides (save for the one side facing the ocean). Borsch also shows the similarities and differences in pre-plague population and farming practices, and population loss between the two countries. Indeed, Borsch surmises that because English land practices included smaller farms with local landowners, English agricultural practices were better able to adapt to the loss of field hands (who died of the plague) simply by planting less. This simple tactic resulted in a continued harvest, thus sustaining the remaining population. In Egypt, however, farms were larger and were managed by absentee landlords. For this reason, Egyptian farms did not adjust to the plague as well as the English farms had, and crops suffered as a result. Yet another challenge faced on Egyptian farms in the aftermath of the Black Death was the complex irrigation system. Without workers to maintain this system or redirect it in more localized ways, the irrigation systems were not adequately kept up and subsequent harvests were lacking.
Critics applauded the book, noting Borsch's access to rare Muslim documents and records that speak to the Egyptian agricultural system of the Middle Ages. For instance, Sheldon Watts, writing in the Journal of Social History, noted that Borsch "tells us that he learned colloquial Arabic and picked up the ability to read medieval documents found in Cairene archives. These in themselves are tremendous achievements, evidence of a huge investment in terms of time and of money spent on basic necessities while acquiring these skills. All very commendable." Watts added that, "in particular, Borsch found a wealth of here-to-fore unpublished information in the Ministry of Religious Endowments, in the waqt deeds, created on behalf of the landholding class." Burnam W. Reynolds, writing in the Historian, remarked that the book is not as topically narrow as so many recent historic examinations tend to be. Indeed, Reynolds stated that "historical writing often seems to be fragmenting into ever more discrete and smaller studies. An antidote is to be found in comparative analyses, and an excellent contribution to this effort is Stuart J. Borsch's examination of the Black Death's impact on Egypt and England." Thoroughly impressed by The Black Death in Egypt and England, Reynolds went on to call the volume a "great accomplishment."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, February 1, 2006, Joseph P. Byrne, review of The Black Death in Egypt and England: A Comparative Study, p. 119.
English Historical Review, September 1, 2007, Rosemary Horrox, review of The Black Death in Egypt and England, p. 1075.
Historian, March 22, 2007, Burnam W. Reynolds, review of The Black Death in Egypt and England, p. 183.
Journal of Social History, September 22, 2007, Sheldon Watts, review of The Black Death in Egypt and England, p. 235.
Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, October 1, 2006, William Chester Jordan, review of The Black Death in Egypt and England, p. 1163.
Assumption College Web site,http://www.assumption.edu/ (August 20, 2008), author profile.