WMU News

Vikings, vamps and Java script: Medievalists invade Kalamazoo

May 1, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- They'll come by plane, train, automobile and Viking ship.

For four days in May, nearly 3,000 medieval scholars will descend upon Kalamazoo for the 35th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University.

The congress, to be held Thursday through Sunday, May 4 -7, is the largest gathering of medievalists in the world. Sponsored by WMU's Medieval Institute, the gathering attracts scholars, historians, art curators, military strategists, monks and nuns from around the globe.

According to Dr. Paul Szarmach, director of the Medieval Institute, the congress "gets bigger and better every year." This year the gathering will feature presentations of more than 1,700 papers in 562 sessions, two concerts, a film festival and a special theatre performance of "Murder in the Cathedral." One of the Congress' highlights will be the exhibition and launching of a Viking ship.

But not everything at the congress is from the days of yore. While cyberspace was not even imagined in the Middle Ages, it figures prominently in this congress. From a special demonstration of the PhiloBiblon databases, an advanced electronic resource for research on medieval literature, to teaching medieval studies via distance learning or using multimedia to teach Chaucer, the computer's impact on the study of things medieval will be discussed and experienced.

It won't all be about new technology; there's plenty of the old to talk about, too. In a session on "Medieval Technology," scholars will address medieval perpetual motion machines, Andalusian horses and scientific controversies in 13th-century Spain.

Interestingly, a bit of ancient technology in the form of a Viking ship will tie together new and old. The 21-foot boat Faringer, which means "four oars" in Norwegian, was constructed by high school students at Minersville Area High School in Minersville, Pa. and modeled after a cargo boat found in 1880 at a Viking burial site on the coast of the Oslo Fjord. After arriving on campus the evening of Thursday, May 4, it will be on display in the second floor lobby of the Bernhard Center on Friday and Saturday, May 5 and 6, and will be launched on Goldsworth Pond at 4 p.m. Saturday. The same Viking boat is scheduled for display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., later in May.

"This Viking boat is an excellent example of medieval technology," explains Szarmach. "They figured out in the eighth century how to construct a boat that could go up a river and sail on oceans. Modern technology is used now to do what Vikings did without computers centuries ago."

But for those looking for a little less nautical fare, there's plenty of the naughty to be had as well. Sessions focus on topics ranging from "Violence and Disorder in Late Medieval England" to "Everything You Wanted to Know about Sin (But Were Afraid to Ask)." And don't forget the session on Middle Ages femme fatales, "The 'Bad Girls' of Arthurian Literature," which features a presentation on how "A Bad Girl Will Love You to Death: Excessive Love in the 'Morte's' d'Arthur."

Vikings won't be the only foreign culture represented at the congress this year. For the first time, scholars from Poland will travel to Kalamazoo to participate. This is the second year that a contingent from Korea has made the trek. In addition, participants also will come from other locations around the globe including Europe, Mexico, Canada, the Middle East and Australia.

This year for the first time, some scholars from former Eastern Bloc countries will be able to come to the congress thanks to travel awards given out by the Medieval Institute. Raluca Radulescu, a Romanian studying at the University of Manchester, England; Alexandru Madgearu of the Institute for Defence Studies and Military History in Bucharest, Romania; and Tzvetelin Stepanov of St. Kliment Ohridski University in Sofia, Bulgaria, were all recipients of Congress Travel Awards, which include a $500 cash prize and a waiver of registration and room and board fees. Oliver Traxel of the University of Manchester, England, received the David R. Tashjian Travel Award, a prize given to an Anglo-Saxon scholar that also comes with a $500 in cash and waiver of registration and room and board fees.

"We take our international ties very seriously and are seeking to assist those scholars from former Eastern Bloc countries who could not normally afford to come to the Congress and give them ability to do so," Szarmach says in explaining the awards.

Two plenary lectures are planned: Karl F. Morrison, professor of history at Rutgers University will speak on "The End of Christian Art" on Friday, May 5; while Pamela Sheingorn, professor of medieval studies at Baruch College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York will address "Tensions, Ambiguities, and the Pressures of History: Constructing the Cultural Biography of Joseph the Carpenter" on Saturday, May 6. 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. "Chants and Songs from the Middle Ages: Hildegard of Bingen, Cantigas and Music from the 'Llibre vermell'" will be performed by Rosa Lamoreaux, a lyric soprano, with Hesperus, at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 4, at St. Augustine's Cathedral, 542 W. Michigan Ave. Tickets are $15.

The Newberry Consort, the resident early music ensemble of the Newberry Library in Chicago, will perform "Saints and Sinners: Cosmology and the Occult in the Middle Ages" at 8 p.m. Friday, May 5, in Dalton Center Recital Hall. Admission is $15.

Those wishing to attend the concerts only can purchase tickets through May 3 at 100 East Walwood Hall between 10:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. and after Wednesday, May 3, at the registration desk in Harrison-Stinson Hall.

The Vikings will revisit the congress yet again as part of a film festival presented in Kirsch Auditorium at the Fetzer Center. The movies scheduled are "The Vikings" on Wednesday, May 3; "L'Eternel Retour" on Thursday, May 4, with a discussion session on the movie offered Friday, May 5 at 10 a.m.; and "La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc" on Friday, May 5, with a discussion session held on Saturday, May 6 at 10 a.m. All films begin at 8:30 p.m.

Other performances planned include a production of T.S. Elliot's "Murder in the Cathedral" at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 5 and 6, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 7, at the API Theatre in the Epic Center in downtown Kalamazoo. Admission is $8 for congress participants, $11 for adults and $9 for students. The admission price goes up $2 the day of the event and reservations can be made by calling (616) 343-8090. The Medieval Romance Society will present a performance of the Middle English romance "Floris and Blancheflur" performed by Linda Marie Zaerr of Boise State University and Laura Zaerr on Thursday, May 4 at 8 p.m. in Room 1010 of the Fetzer Center.

Registration for the congress begins at noon 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 four-day congress is $65 for students and $95 for non-residents.

Wares offered by nearly 70 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 call the Medieval Institute at (616) 387-8745. 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 biennually until 1970, when it became an annual event. More than 50 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, International Arthurian Society, Society of Medieval Feminist Studies, the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society, and the newly-formed Joan of Arc Society.

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

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