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Medieval Congress convenes this week at WMU

May 1, 2006

KALAMAZOO--More than 3,000 scholars from around the world will bring their passion for peering into the past to Kalamazoo when they gather at Western Michigan University for the 41st International Congress on Medieval Studies Thursday through Sunday, May 4-7.

The Medieval Congress is the largest, most comprehensive academic conference of its kind in the world. Attendees will be discussing and debating religion, science, art, mysticism and a host of other subjects as they delve into the finer points of lives lived and lessons learned long ago.

For 2006, the four-day event will feature 640 conference sessions, during which more than 1,900 scholarly papers will be presented. Entire conference sessions will be devoted to topics like "Wonder Drugs of the Middle Ages," "Medieval Romances and Their 'Bad' Endings," and "Troublemakers, Rebels, and Whistleblowers in the Middle Ages."

Some of the more intriguing paper titles this year include "Medieval Latrines and the Law," "Thou Belly-Guilty Bag of Guts: Name-Calling in Old English," "Hot Summer Knights: The Erotic, Romance, and the Four Humors," and "I'm Dying, He Croaked: Checking Out in the Arthurian World." Other papers will shed light on "What Every Digital Medievalist Should Know," "Early Scribal Codes and Substitution Ciphers" "How Can We Understand Islamic Law Today?" and "Leonardo and the FAA: Science History and Pre-Professional Curricula."

The papers will be presented by scholars who come to the congress from more than 49 nations, with many representing the great universities, libraries and museums of the world. Those attending this year include medievalists from such places as the University of Alcala in Spain, Keio University in Japan, the Free University of Berlin in Germany, Osmania University in India, Seoul National University in South Korea, the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in France and the National Archives of England, Wales and the United Kingdom.

The Medieval Congress is organized by WMU's Medieval Institute. First convened in 1962 with 150 participants, the event was held biennially until 1970, when it became an annual event. Those attending the conference stay on WMU's main campus in the "Valley" residence halls complex, as well as numerous local hotels and bed-and-breakfast lodgings.

Dr. Paul E. Szarmach, director of the Medieval Institute, says the biggest congress trend he sees this year is an upsurge in scholarly interest in cultural variety.

"We've always been international in nature," Szarmach says, "but right now we're moving toward a global sense of what it means to be a medievalist and reflecting more on different cultures, particularly Spain and Portugal. But the Crusades and the East are still big scholarly topics, and the 14th century is especially big."

The congress serves as host to the annual business meetings of some 200 international professional organizations that range from the International Courtly Literary Society to Heretics Without Borders to the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship. For many of those organizations, Szarmach says, 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.

Entertainment at the 2006 congress will include a major musical performance by Piffaro at 8 p.m. Friday, May 5. This seven-member group performs music of the late medieval and Renaissance periods on a varied collection of early wind instruments, augmented by percussion and strings.

In addition, an annual Medieval Film Festival has become a standard part of the congress. This year's offerings are 1942's "Les Visiteurs du Soir" ("The Devil's Envoys"), 2004's "King Arthur" (director's cut) and 1993's "The Anchoress."

Some 70 international publishers, book dealers and artisans who specialize in the Middle Ages also 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 Sunday.

Everyone who attends any part of the congress, including the exhibit hall, must register. The late registration period has begun, but Kalamazoo County residents and WMU students, faculty and staff need only pay the $25 late-registration fee. The additional fee for others attending the event is $125. For students and family members accompanying registrants, the fee is $80.

To register online or download the full conference catalog, visit the congress Web site at www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress. On-site registration will begin at noon, Wednesday, May 3, and continue throughout the event. More information also is available by calling the Medieval Institute at (269) 387-8745.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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