World's medievalists set to flock to Kalamazoo for annual congress

contact: Cheryl Roland
| WMU News
The cloisters in Durham Cathedral on a sunny day.

This year's congress includes a session on architectural techniques used to lay out medieval cathedrals.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Medieval scholars from around the world will return to Kalamazoo this month for the 53rd celebration of the Western Michigan University International Congress on Medieval Studies.

The event, which has become a rite of spring in the Kalamazoo community, runs from Thursday, May 10, through Sunday, May 13. It will attract some 3,000 scholars from 47 nations, 49 states and the District of Columbia. Among the attractions this year are sessions on topics ranging from medieval magic and medicine to the architectural techniques used to lay out a medieval cathedral.

Attendees will include professional scholars, most with university appointments; students; independent scholars; librarians; museum curators; and enthusiasts. Hundreds will live in campus residence halls, and hundreds more will fill area hotels.

The event will feature more than 550 sessions in locations across the WMU campus. The sessions will shed light on a range of subjects from preaching and monasticism, to art and architecture and the lives of kings and queens. They will run the gamut from the sacred to the profane and cover such subjects as both food and famine.

The literatures of the medieval world in Arabic, Armenian, English, French, Georgian, German, Greek and Latin will be explored, as will the material cultures of Europe, Asia and the Mediterranean basin. The congress reflects the increasingly global view of the period, with one session, for example, focusing on travelers and transport across Africa, Asia and Europe.

The sessions are in a variety of formats, many taking the form of academic paper presentations. Others are panel discussions, roundtables, demonstrations and workshops. One outdoor learning demonstration this year will show how the plans of great cathedrals were laid out using stakes, string and measuring rods. Workshops will focus on topics as diverse as web-based research resources, a Viking board game, reading aloud in the languages of the Middle Ages and historical pewter casting techniques.

An anniversary year

To mark the 1,100th anniversary of the death of Æthelflæd, daughter of King Alfred the Great, there will be screenings of all episodes in the BBC trilogy “King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons.”  There also will be a series of sessions devoted to Æthelflæd, other powerful women of Anglo-Saxon England and the portrayal of the historical figure in modern fiction. BBC celebrity Michael Wood, who created the television series, will be a speaker in one of those sessions. The entire anniversary celebration is sponsored by WMU's Richard Rawlinson Center for Anglo-Saxon Studies and Manuscript Research.

New this year

A new annual lecture series on the reception of the classics in the Middle Ages will be launched at this year's event, says Jana K. Schulman, director of WMU's Medieval Institute, which organizes the congress each year. The inaugural lecture in that series will be given by Dr. Marjorie Curry Woods of the University of Texas at Austin. She will address the question of "The Classics and After: What's Still to be Revealed?" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 10, in the Fetzer Center's Kirsch Auditorium.

"The lecture series, which is endowed in memory of Archibald Cason Edwards Sr. and Sarah Stanley Gordon Edwards, will bring scholars of distinction to the congress for this special event year after year," Schulman says.

Special plenary lectures

Special plenary lectures are scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12, in the Bernhard Center's East Ballroom:

  • On Friday, the talk is titled "Salvation is Medicine: The Medieval Production and Gendered Erasures of Therapeutic Knowledge," presented by Dr. Sara Ritchey, associate professor of history at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 

  • On Saturday, the plenary address title is "Saint Louis's Other Converts" by Dr. William Chester Jordan, the Dayton-Stockton Professor of History at Princeton University. 


The exhibits hall, a favorite gathering place for Kalamazoo residents, as well as the visiting medievalists, will feature the varied wares of more than 70 vendors, including used and rare book dealers, publishers and sellers of medieval sundries, from souvenir T-shirts and tea towels to hand-crafted musical instruments and jewelry.

Community attendance

Kalamazoo County residents and those with a valid WMU ID may attend the WMU International Congress on Medieval Studies at no cost. Local attendees may register on-site in the lobby of Goldsworth Valley's Eldridge-Fox Halls if they have not pre-registered. 

WMU's Medieval Institute 

The Medieval Institute is a center for instruction and research in the history and culture of the Middle Ages and ranks among the top 10 North American institutes, centers and programs that focus on medieval studies. Its pioneering function was to introduce the first Master of Arts in medieval studies offered at a state-supported university in the United States. The medieval congress began as a biennial conference in 1962. Sponsored by WMU's Medieval Institute, also established in 1962, it grew to become an annual event in 1970 and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012.

View complete details on all WMU International Congress on Medieval Studies events.

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