Kalamazoo Reminders

This is just my idiosyncratic survival guide to attending IMC Kalamazoo. Mostly I made this page to remind myself what I need to pack to make the conference a good one.

The site of the International Congress on Medieval Studies is the Western Michigan University campus in Kalamazoo, MI. The campus grounds are really gorgeous.

What Clothes?

The weather is unpredictable. You should pack a sweater or coat and an umbrella, but also short sleeved shirts and shorts. It is often hot in the sessions, but it's cold at night. As everyone constantly says, "wear layers."

People who are presenting dress "professionaly." People who are attending sessions are usually less formally dressed. Some are even in jeans. On Sunday I usually see at least one senior tenured scholar wearing a T-shirts that say, "You know you are a medievalist when...."

Dorms, Parking, and Food

The dorms are confusingly marked on the maps, but are pretty easy to find once you figure it out. Parking is pretty darn limited, so once a space is obtained, you just want to leave your car there. In a pinch, you lurk near the parking lot until the unwary get in their cars to go to dinner, then take their parking spots.

The cafeteria is open and you can buy meals individually, though you have to buy tickets in advance. I paid for all my breakfasts up front with my registration and that worked well for me. I get up, eat a big meal, grab a piece of fruit for a snack later, and then go to the first session. I brought a little cooler and stocked it with food from a grocery store. I make myself a sandwich each morning that I take along to eat for lunch. This means I don't have to walk back to the dorms for lunch. (And every morning I just fill a small bag with ice from the pop machine in the cafeteria to keep the cooler cold.) The Bernhard Center has a cafeteria as well, but it is fairly time-consuming to get food there. My observation is that if one wanted to attend sessions, one should pack your own sandwich. If one wanted to skip the session and sit and talk with friends, one does lunch at the Bernhard Center.

Dorm Rooms and Wifi

The dorm rooms are... well, dorm rooms. The bed was okay. They provide sheets, pillow, one blanket, one towel and one wash clothe. That's more than I was expecting out of a dorm. There is no AC, but in May it is usually cool, possibly cold, at night.

They have wireless that more or less works in the rooms. There is no computer lab in the dorms, but we are allowed to use two of the computer labs on campus.

Notice the floor is nasty linoleum, remember to pack some houseshoes.

Also notice there is no lamp. So if you are a nighttime reader as I am, then bringing a book light would be a good thing.

Hey, what sweethearts! They have a big box of hangers near the front desk in each dorm, so that you don't have to bring hangers. I bring wooden clothes pins so that I can hang my pants up to get the wrinkles out.

Dorm Bathrooms & Sharing

There is one bathroom for each set of two dorm rooms. Each room has a door that locks, which leads to the bathroom. Two sinks, one shower, one toilet. You can share the dorm room with someone, or rent it as a single. If there were 4 people on a bathroom, that would be a lot since we're all trying to get ready at the same time.

You can specify who you want to be in the other room across from your bathroom. Both of you just have to write it onto your registration when you reserve the rooms. When you check in, leave yourself enough time to go back down and exchange keys if they don't get the rooms right the first time. (Remember the staff are volunteers— be gracious.)


They have a pair of swans on their duck pond. Some years, they have eggs or cygnets by the time the conference rolls around.

Picking Sessions

There are just an overwhelming number of sessions. Read the program book before you get here and pick out what you think you want to go to. Otherwise your brain will short circuit and you'll just randomly end up places. There are four 1.5 hour sessions each day and a heaping gob of lunch and evening activities. In the past few years, they've been colonizing Thursday evening for even MORE sessions.

Because the conference is so large, the presenters assume they are speaking to people who have a certain level of knowledge about their topic. Kalamazoo is great conference to "learn more" about a topic that you've already done some reading in. It is possible to pick a topic and just follow that thread throughout all four days. One year, I went almost exclusively to sessions on Mallory. It was a hoot. I came to know the other people who were following that thread, and came away really pumped up on Arthuriana. However, Kalamazoo is not a good place to "get an introduction" to a topic. One year I thought I'd attend the musicology sessions to introduce myself to that field. I was miserable and bored. I just didn't have enough background at the time to understand their sessions. Two medieval music theory courses later, I do better in those session, but I still have to carefully pick and choose. Remember— go with your strengths when you are picking sessions.

Evening Activities

The Pseudo-Society session is one of the wildly popular events at Kalamazoo. Think medieval stand up comedy.

If you want to get a seat, you'll need to get there early. If you want to get several seats together, you need to come over an hour early. This is a picture of all the people waiting, notice they brought food? Erin and I didn't bring food and we were sad. (See picture of Erin above, being sad.)

Each evening there are a number of wine hours sponsored by various groups and publishing houses. They are usually a bit of a crush, but they hand out free wine in plastic cups, and it is a good place to bump into people socially. There are also a number of annual evening events, like the reading Mallory aloud session, that are a lot of fun to look in on. The dance is, alas, just modern dancing. I'd have had more fun if it were English Country Dancing, but one can't have everything. It is a big mosh pit of dancing academics having fun and gyrating wildly to a mix of popular music of the last fifty years. Conference attendees seem to divide into the "I never go to the dance" group and the "I never miss the dance" group.

Normally, there is an excursion to the performing arts center in town to hear some early music group. I've heard excellent performances at these and buy the tickets when they are offered. A bus comes and picks us all up and brings us back to the dorms afterwards.

Getting Around

There is a shuttle bus, and this year there is a schedule for when it goes where. In the past, I've only met the occasional person who understood the bus routes, but I'm hopeful about the schedule printed in the program.

Mostly everyone just walks. (One stands around hopefully waiting for the bus, then gives up and walks.) Bring more than one pair of good walking shoes.

Remember that this is actually some kind of medieval bootcamp, where you will be forced to walk several miles each day, up and down hills, while carrying a 10 pound book that they glibly call the "Conference Program." Have I mentioned that you should pack several pair of shoes?

The above photo is the walk from the dorms to the part of the campus where most of the classes are. You have to start 15 minutes early to get to the sessions that are on the main part of campus.

And did I mention the hills? This is the stairway that goes from Valley I dorm to Valley II. One has to walk this everyday. Do not bring a heavy briefcase, or a wheelie bag.

Some of the sessions are in the dorms. The cafeteria is in one of the dorms (probably not your dorm). The exhibits where all the books are for sale are in the dorms.

Buying Books

If you can try to bring a budgeted amount of money, just to buy books. ALL the publishers are here, and they drop the prices to half off on Saturday evening/Sunday morning. I've always played the waiting game to try to get the books when they drop their prices, but I must admit, sometimes what I wanted had sold out, and sometimes the publisher just decided to leave Saturday night and not stay for Sunday. There was a particularly nice facsimile that I kept visiting and petting at a book stall, until finally the publisher's rep just let me have it for half off because he felt sorry for me.

If you are flying, remember to bring an extra bag to get the books home.

Sneaking in Some Research

Since they have a Medieval Institute at Western Michigan State, they have a good medievalist's library. It's open during the Congress, except for the last Sunday. (Actually, I think they idiosyncratically change the hours and closure dates each year. Best to call since they are sometimes wrong on the website.) The computer lab that we are allowed to use in the Bernard Center has access to all the library's online resources, so it is possible to look things up on Sunday and then spend an additional day doing research at the library. One caveat though— you have to take your luggage with you whenever you check out of the dorms.