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Thousands to visit Kalamazoo for medieval congress

May 5, 2010

KALAMAZOO--More than 3,000 people will gather in Kalamazoo for Western Michigan University's 45th International Congress on Medieval Studies, set for Thursday through Sunday, May 13-16.

The congress attracts medievalists--professional academics, students and enthusiasts interested in the Middle Ages--from around the globe. Sponsored by WMU's Medieval Institute, it is the largest, most comprehensive academic conference of its kind in the world.

The 2010 medieval congress will include more than 600 sessions featuring the presentation of papers, performances, demonstrations, workshops, panel discussions and roundtables. There also will be an exhibits hall, with rich offerings from more than 70 book publishers and used book dealers, as well as purveyors of media, musical instruments and medieval sundries.

In addition, some 90 business meetings and receptions will take place during the event sponsored by learned societies, associations and institutions such as the Celtic Studies Association of North America, Early Book Society and Pearl-Poet Society.

"There's still much to be learned about the Middle Ages and the modern world's relationship to it," says Dr. James Murray, director of the Medieval Institute. "Epidemic disease, church-state relations, war and peace, all will be discussed at the Congress, along with the ubiquitous Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. We do still like our fun."

During the academic sessions, scholars will present their latest research findings, culled from the study of material remains of the medieval past as well as written records ranging from epic poems to laundry lists.

Some sessions will be devoted to great authors of the Middle Ages like Dante, Chaucer and Chretien de Troyes. Other sessions will connect with the modern world by examining perspectives on science, the environment, economic development, architecture, sexuality, food, entertainment and many other aspects of people's daily lives.

Individual presentations will explore such topics as:

  • "Sheep among Wolves: Muslim Pilgrims on Christian Vessels in the Age of the Crusade
  • "Diplomacy in an Age of Crusading: Papal Correspondence with the Islamic World"
  • "Economies of Travel in the Arthurian World"
  • "Just War, Natural Law and the Erasure of Legal Boundaries"
  • "The Traditional Ideas of the Common Good in Relation to the Modern Notion of Human Rights"

Additional offerings include a workshop for teachers on medieval board games as well as sessions on "The Orphan Motif in Harry Potter," "Guess What’s Coming to Dinner, and How," "Discovering the Straight Past of a Queer Present," "Top Down or Bottom Up? Waste Disposal Concerns in Sixteenth-Century Nottingham."

This year's special plenary lectures will take place Friday and Saturday morning. Thomas E. Burman from the University of Tennessee–Knoxville will speak Friday on why Latin versions of Islam's fundamental text, the Qur'an, were copied in medieval Spain but tended to be read elsewhere. Kathryn Kerby-Fulton from the University of Notre Dame will speak Saturday on the manuscript books of 14th-century England.

The 2010 medieval congress marks the 700th anniversary of the death of the French mystic Marguerite Porete, who was burned at the stake for heresy. The occasion will be marked by sessions examining the literary and theological issues raised by her writings.

Evening events planned include screenings of films on medieval themes, a display of reproduction armor, and workshops on video gaming and longsword techniques. In connection with the Congress, a concert also will be presented Friday, May 14, featuring singer Anne Azema, who plays the hurdy-gurdy--also known as a wheel fiddle--and Shira Kammen, who plays the vielle and harp. The duo will perform music from the time of the Crusades at 8 p.m. in St. Luke's Episcopal Church in downtown Kalamazoo. General admission tickets cost $20 and will be available at the door.

For details about the 2010 International Congress on Medieval Studies, including costs and how to register, visit wmich.edu/medieval/congress or contact the Medieval Institute at medieval-institute@wmich.edu or (269) 387-8745.

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

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