Every year in May, medievalists from all over the world come together in Kalamazoo, Michigan , to indulge in several days of living in semi-monastic conditions and pretending that the Middle Ages still have their charms. You'll find historians, of course, but also writers, artists, literature buffs, art historians, archaeologists, real monks, nuns, and priests, philosophers, publishers, editors, and book salesmen.
Young scholars attend to try out their theses and dissertation topics. Older scholars use the opportunity to catch up with old friends and check up on their young students. Some 600 paper sessions give everyone a chance to feel scholarly, and book displays give everyone who has published a book the chance to walk by a table and think "There's my book!" In the evenings, innumerable learned societies offer open bars, there's a free wine pour if your tastes run to plonk, and lengthy dinners where the attendees are more important than the food. There's even a dance where the most dignified academics turn into kids at a sock hop.
I attended this amazing gathering faithfully while I was teaching at Rhodes, but I haven't been back since I retired. There are too many people, too much bad wine, too long waits to get through the cafeteria lines, and too many hills to climb.
So what do I miss most? Probably the chance to buy old books and to indulge in some really silly medieval bling. In previous years, I hauled home too many books, but also earrings featuring medieval bugs encased in balls of amber, a ceramic head of a court jester on a stick, gargoyles, wax replicas of kingly seals, feather quills with ink made of carbon black, and a couple of loose pages from a 14th-century prayer book.
If I had been in at the 'Zoo last week, I would not have been able to resist this wonderful bookbag bearing a medieval curse for all book thieves and borrowers. Thanks to Lois Huneycutt for the picture.