WMU News

Approaching Middle Ages:
Kalamazoo becomes mecca for medievalists

April 27, 1999

KALAMAZOO -- Where can you find magic, talks about domestic violence and gender differences, monks, and a Friesian war horse all in the same place?

For four days in May, all that and more will be at Western Michigan University as part of the 34th International Congress on Medieval Studies.

More than 2,500 scholars of the Middle Ages, comprising the largest gathering of medievalists in the world, are expected to attend the congress Thursday through Sunday, May 6-9. Sponsored by WMU's Medieval Institute, the congress attracts participants from around the globe, including historians, art curators, military strategists and monks, who roam the campus in long, flowing robes.

"Our attendance continues at historic highs," says Dr. Paul E. Szarmach, director of the Medieval Institute. "We are offering a lot of things to a lot of people. While there is so much going on that it may seem daunting, the heart of this really is the social interaction with colleagues who share common interests."

More than 1,600 papers will be presented on all aspects of medieval life, literature, history and culture. Although the congress takes place in modern times, don't expect to hear talk of the upcoming millennium. The time period these scholars are most interested in, 476-1453 A.D., is around the time of the last millennium.

Sessions feature an eclectic mix of topics including architecture, art, music, money, the military and marriage. For those interested in etiquette, there's "'Learn or be Lewd:' Manners and Corporeal Control in Middle English Conduct Books." While participants won't be sporting period garb, they will still talk of fashion in "The Fifteenth Century V-Neck Gown" and "Why Valerie Wears Polka Dots: The Limitations of Medium on Twelfth-Century Enamels."

In spite of their serious nature, medievalists will also show their humorous sides in such presentations as "He Who Laughs Last Doesn't Get the Joke: Humor in Middle English Romances." And don't forget one of the congress' most popular features, the "Pseudo-session," where presenters give serious sounding papers that are anything but. With titles like "Villard de Honnecourt, Cannabis, and Cross-Dressing in France," these mock papers provide levity among the lectures. Although the topics tend to focus on life a good thousand years before the invention of the computer, technology also is the topic of several sessions, including one on "The E-Classroom: Technology and Old English Pedagogy."

Two plenary lectures featuring scholars from England are also planned. Christopher Page of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge will speak "On the Performance of Medieval Music," on Friday, May 8, while Stephen Knight of Cardiff University in Wales will address "The Making of Maid Marian" on Saturday, May 9. Both lectures will be held at 8:30 a.m. in the East Ballroom of the Bernhard Center.

In addition to lectures and presentations, there will be time for music and mirth through concerts and a film festival. Altramar, a medieval music ensemble will perform "Crossing the Threshold: Transition and Apocalypse" at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 6, in the Dalton Center Recital Hall. Admission is $12. The group includes musician Angela Mariani, host of National Public Radio's "Harmonia."

Grammy-nominee Pomerium will perform chant and polyphony a capella in their program "Organum cantusque in honorem sanctorum (Organum and Chant in Honor of Saints)" at 8:30 p.m. Friday, May 7, at St. Augustine's Cathedral, 542 W. Michigan Ave. Admission is $15.

Those wishing to attend the concerts only can purchase tickets through May 4 at 100 East Walwood Hall between 10:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. and after Wednesday, May 5, at the registration desk in Harrison-Stinson Hall.

A new feature of the congress this year, a film festival focusing on plagues, grails and witchcraft will be presented in Kirsch Auditorium in the Fetzer Center. Films scheduled are "The Navigator, A Medieval Odyssey" on Wednesday, May 5; "Perceval le Gallois" on Thursday, May 6; and "The Sorceress" on Friday, May 7. All films begin at 8:30 p.m.

A Friesian war horse and period dancers will be on hand for demonstrations at 10 and 11:30 a.m.; and 1, 3 and 4:30 p.m. Saturday, May 8, at the gazebo near Goldsworth Valley pond. Members of The Friesian Connection will explain the development and use of the horse during the Middle Ages. Eight costumed dancers from Masterworks will demonstrate sacred and secular dances of the period, with director Jan Hamel explaining the evolution, etiquette and theory behind the dances.

Registration for the congress begins at noon on Wednesday, May 5, and continues through the event. There is no registration fee for WMU faculty, staff members, and students or for Kalamazoo County residents. The fee for others attending the congress is $65 for students and $95 for non-students.

Wares offered by more than 60 publishers, book dealers and artisans who specialize in the Middle Ages will be exhibited in the dining hall of the Goldsworth Valley II complex. Exhibit hours are 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to noon on Sunday.

For more information about the congress, persons should contact conference coordinator Lisa Morrison in the Medieval Institute at (616) 387-8717. General information, schedule changes and registration information also are available on the institute's Web site at <http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/>.
The Medieval Congress first convened in 1962 with 150 participants and was held biannually until 1970, when it became an annual event. More than 30 professional societies devoted to the study of medieval life use the congress to convene annual membership meetings. This year, these organizations include the Franciscan Institute, the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscript and Printing History, and the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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