WMU News

World's medievalists come to WMU this week

May 3, 2005

KALAMAZOO--For four decades, they've streamed to Kalamazoo to debate the merits of Beowulf, the Crusades, chivalry and the Cistercian monasteries of Europe and to honor such icons of the Middle Ages as Chaucer, St. Augustine and Hildegard von Bingen.

This May 5-8, when 3,000 medieval scholars from around the globe come to Western Michigan University's acclaimed International Congress on Medieval Studies, they'll also be celebrating the 40th time the campus and the community have opened their arms to modern-day pilgrims who travel to Kalamazoo to debate the finer points of lives lived and lessons learned long ago.

During 626 sessions over four days, conference participants will have the opportunity to select from among more than 1,800 scholarly papers to hear and consider. Paper titles in this year's catalog run the gamut from "Chicks and Chain Mail: Women and the Heroic in Old English and Old Norse," to "Islamic Intellectual Tradition and its Interface with Western Thought." Entire sessions are devoted to topics like "Accidents on Late Medieval Roads," "Cistercian Thought," "Origins of the Beauty Myth" and "Neglected Barbarians of the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Centuries."

The papers will be presented by scholars who come to the congress from more than 20 nations, with many representing the great universities, libraries and museums of the world. Those attending this year include medievalists from such places as Beijing's Tsinghua University, Budapest's Central European University, the Sorbonne in Paris, the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

"The congress is a professional meeting where intellectual exchange takes place, where networking in a casual atmosphere leads to important professional contacts and where careers are launched," says Dr. Paul Szarmach, director of the Medieval Institute. "Many of us celebrating this year can look back to a time here when we were young scholars presenting our first papers in a professional setting. I'm one of them."

A volume of essays and poems called "The Book of Forty" was published to commemorate this year's gathering. Contributors ranged from scholars who have attended every congress to younger academics who relate their experiences at WMU after years in which "Kalamazoo had loomed large in my imagination as a mythical Mecca other scholars trekked to." The book is being presented to each conference registrant attending this year's event.

The congress, organized by WMU's Medieval Institute also serves as host to the annual business meetings of some 200 international professional organizations that range from Heretics Without Borders to the 14th Century Society and the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship. For many of those organizations, says Szarmach, the congress is the one time in the year when members have an opportunity to gather, and many organizations were actually established during earlier congresses.

When medievalists gather, they also tend to the Middle Ages for entertainment. An annual Medieval Film Festival has become a standard part of the congress. This year's fare includes Danny Kaye's "The Court Jester" and Ava Gardner and Mel Ferrer in "Knights of the Round Table."

This year's major musical performance will be the celebrated group Lionheart, whose six male voices will present an interpretation of medieval and Renaissance music with Gregorian Chant as the keystone of their repertoire. That concert is set for the evening of Friday, May 6.

Everyone who attends any part of the congress must register, and the late registration period has begun. Online registration is available at <www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress/40congress>. On-site registration for the Congress begins at noon, Wednesday, May 4, and continues through the event. A $25 late-registration fee applies to everyone who registers on site. There is no additional registration fee for WMU faculty, staff members and students or for Kalamazoo County residents. The additional fee for others attending the event is $125. For students and family members accompanying registrants the fee is $80.

Some 70 international publishers, book dealers and artisans who specialize in the Middle Ages will exhibit in the dining hall of the Goldsworth Valley III 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.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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