WMU News

Medieval congress draws scholars from around world

April 29, 2004

KALAMAZOO--The Korean medievalists are coming. And so are the Canadians, the Russians, the Hungarians and the Czechs, to name a few.

Those scholars and about 3,000 others from around the world are slated to gather on the campus of Western Michigan University May 6-9 for the 39th International Congress on Medieval Studies.

Researchers, students, performers and other enthusiasts will descend on Kalamazoo and, in more than 600 sessions, they will discuss topics that include the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, medieval genealogy and witches in Anglo-Saxon England. Attendees also will review research in such areas as medieval literature, architecture and the application of digital technology in reconstructing damaged manuscripts.

New to the congress for 2004 are a medieval fashion show and a collaboration with the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival.

"It is impressive that while an uncertain economy has hit universities particularly hard, the interest in this conference remains as high as it has ever been," says Dr. Elizabeth C. Teviotdale, assistant director of the WMU Medieval Institute, which is host to the annual meeting and one of the few public institutions in the United States that offers a graduate degree in medieval studies.

Unlike other conferences on matters medieval, the Kalamazoo gathering does not revolve around a theme. Participants can speak and learn on any manner of topics that fit broadly into medieval studies.

For example, attendees can drop in on such presentations as "Pumping Iron: Scandinavian Iron Smelting Workshops in the Early Middle Ages;" "Dead on Arrival: Guaranteed Ways to Make Your Book Project Unappealing;" "Isidore for Dummies: A Comparison of Medieval and Modern Approaches to Teaching;" and "Saints Are People Too: The Human Personas of Saints in Later Medieval Miracle Studies."

Meanwhile, other sessions sound as if they're plucked from today's television listings: "Extreme Makeover Medieval Style: Transforming the Grotesque in Middle English Romances," "The Making of Millionaire Monks" and "Don Quixote Goes to the Movies."

"The Middle Ages can become a benchmark for who we are and what we do in our own lives and our own culture," says Dr. Paul E. Szarmach, director of the Medieval Institute. "The Middle Ages gave us our language, our laws and our universities. Its cultural significance cannot be denied. On a professional level, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of scholars who got their start by giving a professional paper at our congress. I, for example, 'did my first Kalamazoo' in 1971."

The annual Medieval Film Festival is part of the congress and includes screenings of "Ivanhoe" on Wednesday, May 5; "A Connecticut Yankee" on Thursday, May 6; and "The Virgin Spring" on Friday, May 7. All showings begin at 8 p.m. in Kirsch Auditorium of the Fetzer Center on the WMU campus. The film festival is free and open to the public.

Also open to the public is the first-ever Medieval Fashion Show at 5:15 p.m. Saturday, May 8, in Room 1035 of the Fetzer Center. The show will feature a collection of garments inspired by images in medieval manuscripts and constructed by students in WMU's Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. "Interest in medieval dress has burgeoned over the past 10 to 15 years," notes Szarmach. "In the Middle Ages, it was a matter of 'you are what you wear'--if you dressed like a bum, you were a bum. It will be interesting to view our students' hard work to faithfully replicate medieval dress."

Two concerts are also are part of the congress.

Shira Kammen and Anne Azéma will perform "Étoile du Nord," a program of music from 13th-century France, beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 6, in the Dalton Center Multi-Media Room. Tickets are $15. For up-to-the-minute information on ticket availability, call (269) 387-8745.

In the congress's first-ever collaboration with the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival, the Boston Camerata, under the direction of Joel Cohen, will perform "What Then is Love? An Elizabethan Evening." Tickets are $20 for the event, which will be held at 8 p.m. Friday, May 7, in the Dalton Center Recital Hall. Tickets can be purchased through Miller Auditorium by calling (269) 387-2300.

Two plenary lectures are also scheduled. On Friday, May 7, Dr. Margot Fassler of Yale University will present "Making History: Actions and Agents Within the Liturgical Framework of Time." And on Saturday, May 8, Dr. Eamon Duffy of Magdalene College, Cambridge, will speak on "Margin and Center: The Book of Hours and the Late Medieval Culture of Prayer?" Both presentations will take place at 8:30 a.m. in the East Ballroom of the Bernhard 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 event is $120. For students and family members accompanying registrants the fee is $75.

Some 70 international publishers, book dealers and artisans who specialize in the Middle Ages will exhibit in the dining hall of the Goldsworth Valley II complex from 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, call the Medieval Institute at (269) 387-8745. General information, schedule changes, registration information and the full program are available on the congress Web site at <www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress>.

The Medieval Congress first convened in 1962 with 150 participants and was held biennially 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, including the Early Book Society, the International Arthurian Society, the Christine de Pizan Society and the Texas Medieval Association.

Media contact: Jessica English, 269 387-8400, jessica.english@wmich.edu

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