President: Karl Morrison,
University of Chicago
Friday, October 14, 1977
p.m. Informal gathering and cash bar: Orrington Hotel,
Saturday, October 15, 1977
a.m. Registration and coffee: Norris University
Morning session: Norris University Center,
Luncheon and business meeting: Norris University
Afternoon session: Norris University Center,
Sherry and cheese offered by the College of Arts and
7:00 p.m. Dinner: Orrington Hotel, Heritage House
Later hours President's Reception: location to be announced
An exhibit of medieval books and documents from the Northwestern University Library, Northwestern School of Law Library, and the Northwestern School of Dentistry Library will be on display in the main lobby of the University Library.
In the past, the proceedings of this conference have been reported in many strange and diverse forms. They have been presented as a chronicler's annal and as a council's acta; as a scholastic's gloss and as an astrologer's horoscope; as a bourgeois novella and as the raw material for psychohistory. They have even been presented as the minutes of the last meeting. One form, however, has been neglected, and that unjustly, since it is a famous genre to which the Middle Ages gave birth. I refer to those marvelously objective reports that ambassadors drew up about the persons, places, and events they had observed. Since no one knows them better than Don Queller, our president--or should I say "doge"?--it seems only fitting that they should be commemorated under his presidency. Of course we shall have to imagine that the Republic has sent its envoy not only to a remote place but also to a distant time, from which he might return a matter-of-fact report such as this:
REPORT OF EVANSTON, MADE TO THE SENATE BY THE LATE AMBASSADOR TO THE MIDWEST MEDIEVAL CONFERENCE, fifteenth of October, in the year of our Lord 1977.
The Midwest Medieval Conference is an association, or, as we might say, an academy, of those learned men who call themselves "historians," not because they are avid tellers of tales, but because they are inquirers after the truth. These historians of whom I write expend much wit and erudition on the ages that we call Dark, in the hope that they shall distinguish themselves by making the obscure seem clear and the barbarous seem less strange. To this end, perhaps a hundred of these professors leave their universities every autumn and assemble for a day to hear some six of their number present brief disquisitions of the learned sort. These gatherings also offer several occasions for social intercourse, including what they call "an informal gathering and cash bar," as well as a formal business luncheon, a more formal banquet, and a very relaxed presidential reception.
For one reason or another, these conferences attract scholars from a large and ill-defined part of America called "The Midwest." This area cannot be found on our maps or theirs, and at one time it seemed to fill the American continent from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. Such was the case when this conference was founded in 1963, but in the past fifteen years, other such associations have sprung up in the hinterlands, namely in the Southeast, in Mid-America, and in New England. These regions, by encircling the Midwest, now serve to define it somewhat.
All such regional associations are joined in a loose league known as CARA, which in turn is a dependency of the Mediaeval Academy of America. CARA itself exacts an annual tribute of $50 from its confederates, to pay which the Midwest Medieval Conference levies an annual tax of one dollar on each participant. Over the years the proceeds of this levy have somewhat exceeded the demands of CARA, so that in the present year there is in the conference treasury a surplus of $37.72.
The Midwest Medieval Conference is not to be confused with the Medieval Association of the Midwest, although of late the ignorant have distinguished them with difficulty, perhaps because, last year, one man was president of both organizations.
Having set forth the character of the Midwest Medieval Conference, I shall proceed to my second head, under which shall be described the situation of its most recent meeting. This evidently requires some clarification, since my instructions from the Signory directed me to Chicago, a city to be found on all our maps. Recently I was informed by the wisest woman in America, an arbiter of morals, Ann Landers by name, that Chicago is "the most exciting city in the United States." I can assure you that this is true, for I myself almost lost two members of my embassy who dared to visit the University of Chicago on foot and after dark. But the Signory should understand that our conference was not held in this sinister place, but rather in Evanston, a community situated to the north of Chicago and distinct from it in character. Here persons of the better sort live in tranquility, protected by ancient privileges and no little wealth. Here, too, is the campus of Northwestern University, where the conference convened. By all accounts, especially local ones, it is an institution of consequence; but since universities, like women, are a matter of taste, I shall only venture to compare her to an elegant heiress, who is all the more charming because she is so well endowed.
The social center of the conference was, by comparison, an elderly dowager who was frantically seeking to create the illusion of youth with the aid of every fashionable cosmetic. This the venerable Orrington Hotel, which had private rooms that appeared to be fifty years older than the lobby. Scholars in particular marveled at this hotel's Latin motto that promised us "Facilitas" and Commoditas," and, last but not least, "Luxuria."
However, the more serious work of the conference was accomplished in the most modern of establishments, the Norris University Center, and this report will now describe those proceedings under its third and final head.
Two papers were presented in the morning: one, by Lon Shelby, on "Late Gothic Architecture"; the other, by Nicholas Steneck, on "Trends and Prospects in Scholarship on Late Medieval Science."
A business luncheon was then spread in the Louis Room, overlooking a choppy view of Lake Michigan. President Karl Morrison welcomed us with appropriate eloquence. On behalf of the conference he thanked Robert Lerner and Richard Kiekhefer for the local arrangements, and John Freed for the program his committee had arranged. Dean Richard Sullivan then invited the conference to Michigan State University next year, and his proposal was accepted unanimously, and most eagerly by those who recalled the hospitality of its Kellogg Center from 1964. Bernard Bachrach, as chairman of the nominating committee (Pegues and Barker), then proposed the following officers for the coming year: president: Donald Queller; vice-president: Marcia Colish; councillors: John Barker and John Freed; and secretary-treasurer: Richard Kay, whose office was, with some exaggeration, described as "hereditary." Since no further nominations were proposed from the floor, the slate was adopted by acclamation.
The secretary, who had spent the previous morning in Saint Louis at the joint meeting of CARA and the Manuscripta conference on manuscript studies, reported that CARA was establishing safeguards to prevent the future conjunction of several medieval conferences on the same weekend in the Midwest. (Strange to say, despite these precautions, a year later the CARA conference in Chicago fell on the same weekend as the Manuscripta conference in Saint Louis; and two weeks later, the medieval historians met in East Lansing while the Byzantinists were meeting in Ann Arbor.)
Three papers were presented in the afternoon program; one on the political role of the French nobility in the Late Middle Ages, by John Henneman; another, on the European cotton industry, by Maureen Mazzaoui; and the third, by Kathryn Reyerson, on "Credit Mechanisms in Montpellier before 1350."
The company then retired to the Orrington Hotel to relish cheese and sherry as guests of Northwestern University. Thus revived, they banqueted; and still glowing, settled down to enjoy the principal address of the day, by Joseph Strayer, on the topic of "Medieval Views of the Future." Finally, the survivors of this long and rich day retired to the recesses of the Orrington to enjoy the lavish libations that are the outstanding feature of the president's reception. Karl Morrison did not disappoint them.
Since "the business of the Signory's ambassadors consists [among other things] in acquainting the Senate on their return with whatever my be worth knowing," this faithful report will be no longer.