51st annual congress turns Kalamazoo once more into medieval mecca

contact: Cara Barnes
| WMU News
Photo of Medieval Congress attendees in a lecture hall.

Registration is required for all attendees.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—When some 3,000 medieval scholars from around the globe travel to Kalamazoo this month, they'll talk briefly about the "Game of Thrones" phenomenon as just one indicator of the public's perception of and continuing fascination with the Middle Ages.

The topic is just one of hundreds on the agenda for the 51st International Congress on Medieval Studies, set for Thursday through Sunday, May 12-15, on the campus of Western Michigan University. The annual event attracts the world's leading scholars on all facets of the period, drawing academic specialists from such diverse entities as the U.S. Naval Academy, King's College London, University of Salzburg and Moscow State University.

About the congress

Photo of Medieval Congress attendees engaged in a performance.

Activities include lectures, presentations, workshops and performances.

More than 550 sessions during the congress will allow attendees to focus on topics that range from medieval medicine, mapmaking, money, mental illness and magic to the digitization of manuscripts to engage and educate broader audiences through social media.

"The intersection of popular culture and in-depth academic exploration always plays a role in the congress," says Dr. Jana Schulman, director of the Medieval Institute. "There are sessions that focus on how the Middle Ages are portrayed in today's popular literature and movies. But for every session focused on familiar names like Tolkien, Harry Potter and King Arthur, there are dozens that delve deeply into how architecture, gender politics, astronomy, environmentalism and a range of other topics played out around the world during the Middle Ages."

Sessions will address such subjects as the Black Death, Muslim migrants, waste management, medieval humor and multilingualism in the British Isles. In addition to medieval scholars from colleges and universities, large and small, congress attendees include museum curators, librarians, monks and nuns as well as individual enthusiasts.

This year's congress features paper presentations, panel discussions, roundtables, workshops and performances. There are also some 100 business meetings and receptions sponsored by learned societies, associations and institutions.

Plenary lectures

Special plenary lectures are scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday, May 13 and 14, in the Bernhard Center's East Ballroom. On Friday, the topic is "How We Read J.R.R. Tolkien Reading Grendel's Mother," by Jane Chance, professor of English at Rice University. On Saturday, the talk is titled "Religion and the End of the Roman West," presented by Ian Wood, professor of early medieval history at the University of Leeds.

Workshops and exhibits

Photo of Corina Marti.


A hands-on demonstration of the basic parts and usage of an Islamic astrolabe is one of the hands-on opportunities at the congress. The exhibits hall, which is a favorite venue for both visiting medievalists and Kalamazoo residents, will feature the wares of more than 70 vendors, including publishers, used and rare book dealers, and purveyors of various medieval sundries.

Special early music event

In a special collaboration with Kalamazoo's 2016 Gilmore International Keyboard Festival, the Medieval Institute will present Corina Marti in a Friday evening program of 14th-century music performed on historical instruments. An expert on medieval and Renaissance music, Marti is a Swiss-born artist on the faculty of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis.


All attendees must register for the congress. Online pre-registration closed April 27. On-site congress registration opens at noon on Wednesday, May 11. Residents of Kalamazoo County and those with a valid Bronco Card ID may attend the congress free. For more information about registration, visit wmich.edu/medievalcongress/registration or call (269) 387-8745.

For more information about the congress, visit wmich.edu/medievalcongress.

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