University of Wisconsin
President: Vsevolod Slessarev,
University of Cincinnati
Midwest Medieval Conference
Eighth Annual Meeting
Saturday, October 10, 1970
a.m. Registration and
a.m. MORNING SESSION
Business Meeting. Presiding: Professor Vsevolod
p.m. AFTERNOON SESSION
p.m. SOCIAL HOUR
Mid-Year Update Letter
June 12, 1970
The days of early May and the ripples they produced on college greens account, at least in part, for the late arrival of this letter. For the ninth time since its informal inception, the Midwest Medieval Conference would like to invite you and your students to the traditional fall meeting to be held at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, on October 10, 1970. The program and the details on local arrangement will reach you toward the end of August or beginning of September.
A professional group like ors, built on ties of friendship, should be free to chart its course. But while we do uphold this freedom, we are concerned about the danger of becoming a club with its concomitant attributes of comradeship and gemütlichkeit. Our membership has not grown substantially, and we seem to have failed to entice students of host institutions to our meetings, nor have we done better in attracting groups of students from neighboring colleges. Perhaps we have not tried hard enough, perhaps it was the program that left them cold, for in most cases it was composed of small bits and pieces of polished scholarship.
What we need is some cautious experimenting with the program. You may not have noticed it, an innovation came stealthily two years ago with a paper on Byzantine astrology. It was a welcome departure from the old ways, an opening towards new aspects of medieval studies. In Urbana-Champaign we witnessed the revival of mosaic art in Italy. Madison will offer us a concert and a panel discussion on the theme: "Who was the Greatest Villain in the Middle Ages?" Participation from the floor will be welcome.
A structured morning or afternoon session could be another step toward making the program more appealing to the general audience. There are a number of broad topics awaiting a fresh, perhaps even an original, reassessment, e.g. medieval archeology, rural and urban unrest, nature of lay education, the destruction of the Templars, to mention a few. If we could have two papers approaching a topic from different angles, and an aggressive commentator, we may walk away with something memorable. Needless to say, such sessions would have to rely, at least in part, on senior members of our profession who cannot be expected to travel and to pay their fare. We may have come to a point at which a modest assessment for the benefit of the program should be considered.
If you have some thoughts, suggestions, or criticism, please bring them along to Madison. Let us rather be vociferous than silent; to borrow a colloquialism, MMC is us.
Your medieval chronicler would have disposed of these minutes with a single sentence. If he were a modest chronographer, the sentence would be admirably brief, as for example: The eighth annual meeting of the Midwest Medieval Conference was also held, this year at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, on Saturday, October 10, 1970, Vsevold Slesserev then presiding.
But Middle-Aged ambition grew in defiance of the well known historiographic law that the writing of history increases in quantity but decreases in quality in direct proportion to the sources available. I respect this Law of Perverse Relation, and accordingly I propose today to limit the minutes to an old-fashioned single sentence, as suitably inflated under the influence of classical models. Thus to begin again:
In the same year, a remarkable disputation was held in the Madisonian City at a conference of those scholars who by the vulgar are called "medievalists," for not long after the season of the World Series, persons beyond number did there assemble, or rather I should say that they were "gathered together," for is it not written, "Where the corpse is, there are the bustards gathered together?"-- and you must understand that "corpse" here signifies the past of humankind, which these historians did assemble to enjoy like so many eagles or some other noble scavenger--so from all quarters of the many Midwests, I say, they assembled with appetites whetted keen, and the same were hardly dulled on the morning of their congregation, neither by the grave meat dispensed with due weight and measure by Ronald Zupko, nor by the no less substantial diet of Carolingian politics which David Miller glazed with biblical allegory: rather did these morsels cause the ravenging academics to hunger and thirst mightily, but the frailty of human flesh intervening, they repaired to that indulgence of Old Adam known as a "business luncheon" at which the several members were rallied by the earnest effort of their head, I mean the distinguished president of the aforesaid body, Steve Slesserev, who stimulated the collective craving, not to say lust, for excellence, by evoking a vision of future feasts that should be bigger because shared more fully by graduate students, and likewise should be better because more perfectly united by a bond of thematic unity: and to match words with deeds, he summoned the nominating committee, who through their chairman, Richard Face, offered these select chefs for the coming year: president: David Herlihy; vice-president: James Brundage; counsellors: Jan Rogozinski and Maureen Mazzaoui; and perforce a secretary, Richard Kay, which proposal was declared unanimous because seconded by universal laughter: and beyond doubt spirit at this point ran high at the prospect of the afternoon menu, artfully contrived by the program committee, if not by its chairman, the aforesaid Brundage, to pass, with an interlude of music, from brigandage to villainy: nor were they in any wise disappointed, for John Henneman richly gratified the interest which the learned profession takes in other forms of organized crime, while the intermezzo of Milos Velimirovic, recreating as it did the sounds of medieval music in a lecture-cum-demonstration, did soothe not a few postprandial spirits before the climactic joust, in which John Leyerle, impresario of the event, now prepared to receive three nominations for the conference title of "greatest medieval villain" from a panel of suitable experts, and not unnaturally the first proposal, advanced by Joseph Berrigan, was one Ezzelino da Romano, who in fact did prefigure that greatest of medieval villains--I mean, the Renaissance: yet the tyrant's own crimes, though admirably atrocious, paled into historical insignificance before the greater enormities of the forger of the Donation of Constantine, against whom Sarah Farley could surely have secured a unanimous verdict, if only the culprit had been named in the indictment; but the opposite course proved to be the most convincing procedure, for in the final arraignment a certain man of letters, Jerome Taylor by name, did boldly point to his candidate, the Blessed Bernard of Clairvaux, and then proceeded with dialectical (say rather "diabolical") wit, to transmute the greatest virtues into the the greatest vices: and--wonderful to say--everyone laughed, some because it seemed preposterous, others because it seemed true, while yet some few laughed because they were inwardly proposing to themselves still other medieval worthies no less ridiculous--what more need I say?--the session dissolved, by divine inspiration as it were, into howls of glee, and cackles of delight; so after such exercise, the learned retired once again to refresh themselves first in spirits and then, in a body, to partake a collective dessert for the efforts of that day, in the charming person of Robert Lopez, whose merits (too many to mention) supplied whatever the academic appetites might still desire after so strenuous a day of gratifying the hunger and thirst for knowledge, or if you will, wisdom.