WMU News

First sign of spring? Medievalists at WMU

April 19, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- Never mind the robins and the daffodils. Spring hasn't officially reached Kalamazoo until the medievalists arrive.

More than 3,000 medieval scholars will descend on the city and Western Michigan University Thursday through Sunday, May 3-6, for the 36th International Congress on Medieval Studies.

The largest gathering of medievalists in the world, the congress has been a rite of spring for Middle Ages scholars for nearly four decades. Sponsored by the WMU Medieval Institute, the four-day event attracts researchers, historians, art curators, monks, nuns and vendors from around the world.

The congress offers participants an action-packed program with academic presentations, a film festival, music, theatre and the chance to hobnob with many of the great intellects on all things medieval. This year's schedule includes presentations of more than 1,700 papers in nearly 600 sessions, three theatrical events, two concerts and the traditional Saturday evening social where scholars forego Dante for dancing.

According to Dr. Paul E. Szarmach, director of the Medieval Institute, no matter what your particular medieval specialty or interest, this year's congress probably has it covered.

"There are sessions on drama, medicine, law and education. We also have scholars who will talk about weapons, gender issues, death and dysfunctional families. And yes, there's monsters, demons and hell mouths, too," Szarmach notes.

When you look at it, the program somewhat resembles the line-up of primetime television. But instead of "The Practice" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," there's "Demonic Beings in Medieval Art, Literature and Popular Tradition" and "Violent Crime in Medieval London."

With topics like "'Medievals Weren't Christians; They Were Catholic': The Challenges of Teaching Medieval Studies in the Bible Belt," "Infamous but Dead Medievalists" and "The Dysfunctional Family in the Middle Ages," there will be plenty about which congress attendees can talk. Szarmach points out that this year, however, there is also much to see.

"In addition to our concerts and film festival we are also having three short theatrical events. A number of our presentations this year are also performances, where instead of discussion, there will be reading, dancing, singing or acting. These sessions promise to be quite lively," he says.

Scheduled performances open to the public include the following.

Marijim Thoene, an organist, will perform "In Praise of the Saints: Music Based on Medieval Chants and Hymns," at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 3, at First Baptist Church, 315 W. Michigan Ave. Tickets are $10.

Tapestry, an early music group from Boston, will perform "Song of Songs: Come into My Garden," at 8 p.m. Friday, May 4, at St. Augustine's Cathedral, 542 W. Michigan Ave. Tickets are $15.

A medieval film festival will feature "Destiny" on Wednesday, May 2; "Sword of Lancelot" on Thursday, May 3; and "Kristin Lavransdatter" on Friday, May 4. All showings begin at 8 p.m. in Kirsch Auditorium of the Fetzer Center on the WMU campus.

Theatrical events will include "Johan Johan," by John Heywood, presented by the Duquesne University Medieval and Renaissance Players, at 12:45 p.m., Friday, May 4; "The Fantastic Pilgrim," an extract from a 16th-century Polish carnival play, and "Death in the Tree" by Hans Sachs, both performed by the Harlotry Players of the University of Michigan at 5:15 p.m., Saturday, May 5. All performances will take place at Center Stage in WMU's Bernhard Center.

Those wishing to attend the concerts can purchase tickets through May 2 at 100 East Walwood Hall between 10:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. and after May 2 at the congress' registration desk in Harrison-Stinson Hall. The other performances are free and open to the public.

In addition, two plenary lectures are planned. Dr. John Osborne, professor of medieval and Byzantine history in art at the University of Victoria, will speak on "Mural Paintings and Manuscripts as Evidence for the Papal 'Rapprochement' with Byzantium in the Ninth Century" Friday, May 4. Dr. Danuta Shanzer, professor of classics at Cornell University, will address "Reading the Heroes and Saints of Early Medieval Latin Literature" Saturday, May 5. Both lectures will be held at 8:30 a.m. in the East Ballroom of the Bernhard Center.

Registration for the congress begins at noon, Wednesday, May 2, and continues through 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 $95 for non-residents and $65 for students and family members accompanying registrants.

Wares offered by some 70 publishers, book dealers and artisans who specialize in the Middle Ages will be exhibited in the dining hall of the Goldsworth Valley II complex from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to noon on Sunday. Several of the vendors, like many of the scholars, have come from overseas to participate.

For more information about the congress, persons should call the Medieval Institute at (616) 387-8745. General information, schedule changes and registration information also are available on the institute's Web site at <www.wmich.edu/medieval>.

The Medieval Congress first convened in 1962 with 150 participants and was held biennially until 1970, when it became an annual event. More than 50 professional societies devoted to the study of medieval life use the congress to convene annual membership meetings. This year, these organizations include the Franciscan Institute, the International Arthurian Society, the Society of Medieval Feminist Scholarship, the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society, and the International Joan of Arc Society.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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