Saturday, May 02, 2009

44th International Congress on Medieval Studies begins Thursday

More than 3,000 scholars and others interested in the Middle Ages from around the world will gather in Kalamazoo for Western Michigan University's 44th International Congress on Medieval Studies Thursday through Sunday, May 7-10.

Sponsored by the University's Medieval Institute, the congress will feature over 600 sessions of scholarly papers, panel discussions, roundtables, workshops, and performances. The exhibits hall, annually a crowd and community favorite, features the displays of over 70 book publishers, used book dealers, and purveyors of medieval sundries.

"Attendees will find more than the usual cornucopia of intellectual delights, social possibilities, and shopping temptations," says Dr. James Murray, director of the Medieval Institute. "It's a veritable spring harvest of delights."

Congress sessions address all aspects of the period and the ways the Middle Ages are reflected in life today, including art and science, politics and economics, chivalry and royalty, warfare and peace, spirituality and daily life, church and state, diplomacy and travel. To examine the period, scholars use material remains and all sorts of written records, from laundry lists to epic poetry.


This year, as always, academic sessions are planned around the impact and meaning of such classic medieval literature as "Canterbury Tales," "Beowulf" and the tales of King Arthur. Other sessions focus on how medievalism has influenced today's popular culture, as evidenced by J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series, modern films like "A Knight's Tale" and "Nottingham." Still other sessions are focused on how issues of modern importance-from urban planning and judicial development to nutrition and domestic violence-were reflected in the writings, records and public life of medieval times.

This year marks the 900th anniversary of the death of King Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile, the self-proclaimed "emperor of all Spain." The occasion will be marked by a series of sessions devoted to the culture of the Iberian peninsula in his time, as well as to his legacy.

Special events

Special plenary lectures on Friday and Saturday morning address "Fictions of Conduct in Medieval France" and "Michael of Rhodes: A Venetian Seafarer and His Book." Evening events include screenings of films on medieval themes, a display of reproduction textile and dress items, and a video gaming workshop.

Also in connection with the congress, Cincinnati-based Catacoustic Consort will present a concert at 8 p.m. Friday, May 8, in the First Baptist Church, which is located at 315 W. Michigan Avenue in downtown Kalamazoo.

"Catacoustic's gifted and energetic music director, Annalisa Pappano, has chosen a program of music from the court of Emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg," says Murray. "Featuring a viol consort and a tenor vocalist, the concert will recreate the sound of a German musical evening of the early sixteenth century."

In addition to the daily academic sessions, scholars from around the world use the congress as an opportunity to convene annual meetings of many of the world's premier medieval studies organizations. Each day of the congress includes membership meeting of groups such as the Early Book Society, the Society for the Study of Popular Culture and the Middle Ages and De Re Militari: The Society for Medieval Military History. at the Congress

The editors of will also be attending the congress, where we will be conducting video interviews with congress participants, and doing daily video blogs reporting on events in Kalamazoo.