Kalamazoo Tips and Pointers

We are less than two months almost one month away from the International Congress on Medieval Studies! For those who will be attending, Dr. Porreca and I have put together some useful information and helpful hints.

Firstly, I’ll reiterate some essential information. We will be departing from Waterloo the morning of May 8th and will be returning the evening of the 12th. Registration is through Western Michigan University’s website. If you haven’t registered yet, you should do so as soon as possible. Online registration ends 15 days before the start of the Congress, but it’s recommended to register early (your room will be closer to the cafeteria/exhibits hall and rooms are assigned on a first-come-first-serve basis). For those who have not yet registered, ensure that you do not select residence for Sunday (if you already have done so by accident, it is possible to receive a refund). Most importantly, you NEED a passport in order to attend. Make sure you will have a valid passport in time for the Congress and don’t forget to bring it (and sign it!). Those who received a travel bursary in order to attend will need to save all receipts related to registration, lodging, food, and travel. Those who have already registered can obtain their receipt by logging in to the registration website and checking their order status.

Here are some useful pointers for the trip over and the stay in residence:

  • For border-crossing purposes, our place of stay in Kalamazoo is Western Michigan University, 1903 W. Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo MI 49008-5200
  • Expect Kalamazoo weather to be ~2-3 weeks ahead of ours. Typically there will be very warm days (shorts-worthy weather) and rather cool nights (a sweater will come in handy) so be sure to pack appropriate clothing.
  • Unpackaged food is not allowed across the border. Any open snacks you bring must be consumed before we cross. Please do NOT bring fresh fruit.
  • For light sleepers, earplugs are recommended. We will be staying in an echoey university residence.
  • You may wish to bring warm pyjamas or a blanket, since at night it can get quite cool.
  • The towels provided are not plush. If this is a priority, bring your own.
  • Small hotel soaps are provided, but all other toiletries are your own responsibility.
  • The water in Kalamazoo doesn’t agree with the average person, so if you are susceptible to gastrointestinal issues, I suggest you bring appropriate medication. Note that there are vending machines in the residence buildings.
  • We’ll be stopping for lunch at a pub in Sarnia on the way down and, potentially, for dinner on the way back, so you might want to bring a few Canadian dollars for that.
  • On Wednesday evening we have our usual outing to Bilbo’s Pizza, a Lord of the Rings-themed pizza place and microbrewery not far from the campus.
  • Please note that the legal drinking age in Michigan is 21 and you will need a recognized form of ID in order to purchase alcohol.
  • Bring an alarm clock (or phone, etc.) so that you wake up in time for sessions (some can be quite early) and to ensure you can get to the exhibits hall nice and early.
  • You may wish to obtain some extra travel insurance for the trip. uWaterloo students should check with Feds/Health Services for coverage included in their tuition.
  • For those traveling with Dr. Porreca, he is willing to play taxi and deliver you to your door (or other designated location) on the way back.

Some tips regarding the Congress itself:

  • It is helpful to plan out the sessions you wish to attend ahead of time. The full schedule of sessions is available here. The most common complaint about Kalamazoo is that, since there is a multitude of sessions, it is often impossible to attend every session that you’re interested in. Note that very few sessions require any sign up or cover fee (mostly just the demonstrations).
  • When planning your sessions, be sure to look not only at the topic but also who’s presenting. This year, noted author and expert on military history Kelly DeVries will be presenting a paper. Also presenting are uWaterloo’s own Dan Attrell and Dr. David Porreca. Some other noteworthy presenters whom you may enjoy this year include author and Templar expert Helen Nicholson, Frank Klaassen, and Paul Chevedden.
  • Speaking from experience, I recommend that you either attend sessions you have some background knowledge of or do some research before you go. The papers are written by experts in their fields and will be very difficult to follow without an understanding of the underlying themes and events. (For example, last year I attended a session on Icelandic bishops’ sagas. When I arrived, I was given a handout entirely in Icelandic and sat through the entire session with no idea what was being discussed. Another example, I also attended a session on the Ostrogoths in Italy. I assumed that I had enough background knowledge about the Ostrogoths to be able to attend, but soon realized that I was unfamiliar with the specific individuals, events, and terms the papers were discussing and most of what was said was lost to me.)
  • Those intending to progress in academia are encouraged to speak with presenters who piqued their interest. Since most presenters are professors or graduate students, this is a great opportunity to find universities, Masters’ programs, and potential graduate advisors that specialize in your area of interest.
  • Recommended for Saturday evening is the Pseudo-Society, a session that always fills quickly. The entire session is meant to be humorous (hence “the Pseudo-Society”) and is always good fun.
  • Be sure to bring sturdy walking shoes. Speaking from experience, the campus is quite large and hilly. Depending on which sessions you plan to attend and which building you live in, you may be required to walk very long distances throughout the day.
  • The exhibit hall will be open from 8am-6:30pm, Thursday through Saturday in Valley III. Here you will find many, many book sellers, both new and used, in addition to those selling Medieval coins, manuscripts, and other items ranging from imitation drinking horns to clothing. It is very easy to spend several hours and lots of money here, so be sure to plan for it and save up! (Cash in USD is the best form of payment as not all sellers will accept credit cards or other methods).
  • Those interested in saving some money on books should go early and reserve the display copies. Most publishers will have some of their books on display. If you go early enough, you usually can reserve the display copy and then pick it up on Saturday/Sunday at a discount.
  • If you plan on buying more than a few books or intend to purchase some expensive items, keep in mind that the spending limit for duty-free crossing is $800 (per person). Don’t forget that you will also need either extra bags or space in your suitcase to take them home.
  • There is a large dance held on the Saturday of every congress from 10pm-1:30am. Those who wish to go should bring appropriate clothing for the dance.
  • Feel free to bring a board game (there almost certainly will be Latin Scrabble!) to play after dinner with other Congress-goers.

If you have questions or are looking for more information, feel free to browse the Congress’ website or simply ask me (I’m more than happy to answer Kalamazoo-related questions).

Hope to see you there!





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