WMU News

Medievalists set to invade Kalamazoo May 7-10

April 28, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- Kalamazoo will become a mecca for medievalists Thursday through Sunday, May 7-10, as nearly 2,700 scholars from 50 states and more than 25 countries travel to Western Michigan University for the 33rd International Congress on Medieval Studies.

The annual event will attract experts from as far away as Australia, Japan and Russia and from such institutions as the British Museum, the Vatican Library and the U.S. Military Academy. It is the world's largest and best-known conference of scholars who study all aspects of the Middle Ages.

"This is the only place in the world where you'll find a Japanese scholar describing the characteristics of Old English alliterative meter next door to someone from the Sorbonne talking about the architecture of a medieval abbey," says Dr. Paul E. Szarmach, director of WMU's Medieval Institute, which acts as host for the event. "If there is anything that astounds me it is that in this age when history and medieval studies are under attack, we see this remarkable response from scholars worldwide."

This year, the congress will feature a record 532 sessions. Each session will include three to four presentations on such topics as "English Medieval Drama and the Historical Origins of Violence," "Arthurian Anxieties" and "Methods of Enforcing Currency Restrictions in Late Medieval England."

Szarmach says that while such response is a boon to the annual event, it also forces congress organizers to work harder than ever at maintaining both access and quality. This year the number of participants making presentations is up by 12 percent even though presentation proposals were rejected to maintain balance in the program. The congress has a long-standing reputation for offering presentations by both established scholars and graduate students delivering their first professional papers.

"We are the most accessible conference in the world and we want to remain that way," he says. "We make it possible for young scholars to meet the stars in the field."

Among the highlights of this year's event will be the congress' first time offering of medieval French cuisine and a celebration of the 900th birthday of Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th century nun and composer whose work has been making a recent comeback on the classical music charts. The congress also will mark the 900th anniversary of the founding of the Cistercian order of monks, with the establishment of a monastery at Citeaux, France.

Medievalists attending the congress also will have the opportunity to take part in a hands-on learning experience during two continuous outdoor workshops that will demonstrate with cords and stakes the layout and measurement processes used for a Gothic cathedral. Those workshops will take place at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturday, May 9, at the Goldsworth Valley intramural fields.

The congress' tradition of attracting top-flight medieval music specialists for concerts will continue this year, Szarmach says. Altramar, an early music ensemble, will offer "Crossroads of the Celts" at 8 p.m. Thursday in the Dalton Center Recital Hall. The performance will feature the use of one-of-a-kind replicas of medieval Celtic instruments as the group performs a program of songs in Old and Middle Irish, Welsh, Old French and Hiberno-Latin. Tickets for the event are $12 and will be available at the registration desk in the lobby of Harrison-Stinson Halls during the congress.

On Friday, The Scholars of Cambrai, who specialize in Cistercian music, will help celebrate the founding of the Cistercian order with a program titled "Treasures Old and New: Nine Centuries of Cistercian Music." The performance, scheduled for 8 p.m. at St. Augustine Cathedral, 542 W. Michigan Ave., is free to those registered for the congress but tickets are required. Tickets for the general public may be available at the congress registration desk. Information about ticket availability for either concert is available by calling the Medieval Institute at (616) 387-8745.

Registration for the congress will begin at noon Wednesday, May 6, and continue throughout the event. There is no registration fee for WMU faculty, staff members and students or for Kalamazoo County residents. The fee for others attending the congress is $65 for students and $95 for non-students.

Throughout the congress, participants will have an opportunity to sample the wares offered by nearly 70 publishers, book and music dealers and artisans who specialize in the Middle Ages. The exhibitors' area is in the dining hall of the Goldsworth Valley II complex. Exhibit hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday; and 8 a.m. to noon Sunday.

"We offer the best book exhibit in medieval studies anywhere," Szarmach notes. "That has remained a strong feature of the program and the fact that both new and used books are available is unusual."

The Medieval Congress was first convened in 1962 with 150 participants and was held biannually until 1970 when it became an annual event. More than 30 professional societies devoted to the study of medieval life use the congress to convene annual membership meetings. This year, these organizations will include the International Arthurian Society, the International Courtly Literature Society, the Society for the Study of Healing in the Middle Ages and the International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland; cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
616 387-8400