The International Congress on Medieval Studies
is an annual academic conference
An academic conference or symposium is a conference for researchers to present and discuss their work. Together with academic or scientific journals, conferences provide an important channel for exchange of information between researchers.-Overview:Conferences are usually composed of various...
held for scholars specializing in, or with an interest in, medieval studies
-Development:The term 'medieval studies' began to be adopted by academics in the opening decades of the twentieth century, initially in the titles of books like G. G. Coulton's Ten Medieval Studies , to emphasize a greater interdisciplinary approach to a historical subject...
. It is sponsored by Western Michigan University
Western Michigan University is a public university located in Kalamazoo, Michigan, United States. The university was established in 1903 by Dwight B. Waldo, and as of the Fall 2010 semester, its enrollment is 25,045....
in Kalamazoo, Michigan
The area on which the modern city stands was once home to Native Americans of the Hopewell culture, who migrated into the area sometime before the first millennium. Evidence of their early residency remains in the form of a small mound in downtown's Bronson Park. The Hopewell civilization began to...
and is held during the first half of May. The Congress is the largest annual gathering in the field, regularly attracting over three thousand registered participants. The most recent Congress took place May 13–16, 2010. The 2011 Congress will occur May 12–15.
In 1962, the newly-established Institute for Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University organized a biennial gathering known as the Conference on Medieval Studies. By 1970, participation had grown significantly and the gathering was made an annual affair. Unusual for the time, the organizers issued calls for papers
A call for papers ' is a method used in academic and other contexts for collecting book or journal articles or conference presentations...
which were open to all in the field who were interested, including graduate students (see Scope and Participation
In 1973, the Institute for Cistercian Studies was established at Western Michigan, and began to hold its annual Cistercian Studies Conference as a sub-set of the International Congress on Medieval Studies.
The Medieval Academy of America
The Medieval Academy of America is the largest organization in the United States promoting excellence in the field of medieval studies. It was founded in 1925 and is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts...
has held its annual meetings at the Congress in 1974 and 1982. The Academy began sponsoring a plenary session
Plenary session is a term often used in conferences to define the part of the conference when all members of all parties are to attend.These sessions may contain a broad range of content from keynotes to panel discussions and are not necessarily related to a specific style of delivery.The term has...
in 1992 and maintains a committee for this purpose.
The Congress is typically held during the first or second week of May, and runs from Thursday morning through Sunday afternoon. Most events are held on the West Campus of Western Michigan University.
from the schedule of the 42nd International Congress on Medieval studies, held in May 2007, illustrates the structure and events of the Congress as described below.
Sessions form the bulk of the activity at the Congress. There are three main types of sessions:
- The vast majority of sessions are presentations of research. These sessions typically consist of between two and four presentations given by scholars in the field who present papers or other updates on the findings of their current research. Each of these sessions is organized around a theme under which the constituent presentations fit.
- A minority of sessions are organized as roundtable discussions, in which a discussion on a predetermined topic takes place in at least a partially spontaneous manner. Short, prepared presentations are sometimes given as part of the roundtable.
- A few sessions are organized as workshops, in which attendees are active participants. These focus on the teaching and practice of new skills.
Many sessions have a sponsoring group, although individuals or the Congress may organize sessions. Many of the sessions are sponsored by academic associations, universities, or publishers, while others are arranged by ad-hoc groups which are interested in a particular topic.
Approximately six hundred sessions are held across twelve different time slots during the four days. Each session is scheduled to last ninety minutes.
Two plenary lectures are given during the conference, at the beginning of the day on Friday and Saturday.
The exhibits hall is open during the length of the Congress, and is composed primarily of book publishers selling their latest titles in the field of medieval studies. A minority of the hall also features handcrafts, music, and foodstuffs for sale. In 2007, approximately seventy exhibitors participated.
The Congress serves as a rare chance for international societies of medieval specialists to gather in person, and dozens of business meetings are conducted during breaks between sessions. Many groups use the opportunity to plan for their presentations later in the summer at the International Medieval Congress held at Leeds University.
The Congress typically features a film festival, screening movies which have a medieval setting or theme. There are also performances of medieval music and theater.
Some participating organizations sponsor social gatherings in the form of wine hours or open bar receptions.
Scope and Participation
The Congress is very broad in scope, being open to all topics related to the medieval period and to participants from any background. This has served to set it apart from other meetings in the field. Topics may range from discussions of mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...
Numismatics is the study or collection of currency, including coins, tokens, paper money, and related objects. While numismatists are often characterized as students or collectors of coins, the discipline also includes the broader study of money and other payment media used to resolve debts and the...
, and medieval latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...
, to modern medieval-themed video games, the works of J. R. R. Tolkien
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College,...
, and the teaching of medieval studies in the classroom.
Such being the case, participants come from a broad variety of educational backgrounds. Most are professors and graduate students, but a significant minority is composed of architects, monks, undergraduate students, fiction authors, and other independent scholars and enthusiasts. Presenters are not necessarily experts in medieval history; scholars of literature, theater, religion, and art frequently give presentations.
There have been some complaints that the congress allows for too many papers to be given, since it makes it difficult for a participant to attend all the sessions they want to — the several hundred sessions are split among only twelve time slots. Others argue that the quality of some papers is not adequate.