Calls for papers and preparations are now underway in advance of the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies, which will be held at Western Michigan University from May 12-15, 2011. This annual gathering of medievalists is one of the largest academic conferences in the world, drawing in over three thousand participants.
Over 600 sessions have been proposed, covering a wide number of topics from history, literature, art, and more. The various sessions are broadly organized into two groups: sponsored Sessions, which are organized by societies, associations, and institutions, such as De Re Militari: The Society for Medieval Military History, or the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, St. Louis University; and special Sessions are organized by individual scholars and ad hoc groups. The organizers set predetermined topics, which are often narrowly focused.
Among the new proposed sessions is one from the Societas Daemoniaci, which is a scholarly society that studies the devil and the demonic in medieval contexts. According to session organizer Richard Burley, their proposed session: Hell Studies, is “looking for papers on any and all aspects of Hell, both the place and the characters associated with it, regardless of discipline. Papers are welcome that explore the history, art, literature and theatre of Hell and its associates.”
Meanwhile, one of the more popular sessions is returning to the congress: the Oakeshott Institute is presenting two sessions entitled ‘Sword in Hand’, which deals with the use of weapons during the Middle Ages. Session organizer Annamaria Kovacs provided this information about the sessions:
Sword In Hand I: Practical Insights into Scholarship, Pedogogy, and Sword Production in the Study of Lichtenauer’s Art of the Sword – The purpose of this paper session is to explore the manner in which medieval studies engage the objects of the past: specifically in terms of the scholarship surrounding the reading and translation of medieval fencing manuals; the pedagogical approaches structuring longsword training in the era; and the interplay between practical use and subsequent production of medieval swords. The objects of our study: the manuscripts, weapons, and medieval archeological sites and objects, should have preeminance in our examination of this area of study. Papers will focus first and foremost on hands-on interaction rather than secondary scholarship with an emphasis on a ‘practiced’ approach to the study of the longsword. While this session focuses on the Lichtenauer tradition specifically, papers from other contemporary European schools of practice are welcome and will be thoughtfully considered for inclusion.
Sword In Hand II: A Demonstration of Body Mechanics, Weapon Presence, and Purposeful Design in the Use of the Medieval Longsword – Following the intellectual theme of the paper session above, this demonstration will focus on the physical interaction between the user and the sword. As the style of fighting with the sword evolved from single-handed techniques into the era of the two-handed longsword, changes in the manufacture of these weapons were implimented to meet the new needs of medieval men- at-arms. This demonstration looks at the roles of body mechanics, the weight and balance of the longsword, and the manifestation of these in production, by physically demonstrating and discussing the manner in which these weapons were intended to be used. Grips, stances, blocking, and attacking using the longsword will be shown along the lines described, ending in an open questions-period in which select audience members can handle representitive swords in a highly structured and safe enviroment following the spirit articulated by Ewart Oakeshott.
The sessions related to the use of medieval weaponry has grown in popularity ever since starting at Kalamazoo several years ago. They now take one of the larger rooms in the conference, although not large enough to seat all the people who want to attend. Kovacs find this popularity, “rather ironic, considering the ‘fringe’ these studies are relegated to in acedemia, all too often. If I may be frank with you, I think this is a backlash of the almost-manichean tendencies of academic institutes, emphasizing the intellectual and almost totally discarding the material (be in material culture, military history, arms and armor etc.). As one who wrote her dissertation on examining precisely this aspect of medieval culture and having my first degree from archeology, I feel it is way overdue to give these subjects back their proper emphasis at one of the largest venues of thought exchange in medieval acedeme.”
A PDF file listing all the sessions is available here. Here is also a list of links where more information about individual sessions can be found:
See also: Kalamazoo 2011: Some panels and roundtables of interest – from In the Middle
And finally, for general information about the Congress, please see our page.