IF A MEDIEVALIST SAYS TO YOU `Are you going to Leeds?', the chances are that you are not being asked whether you are going to see Leeds United play at home, nor whether you are planning a shopping trip to the newly-opened Harvey Nichols of the North in that delightful Yorkshire city. Your questioner is more likely to be referring to the International Medieval Congress which takes place there in July each year.
Until the first International Medieval Congress (IMC) took place in July 1994, scholars of the European Middle Ages had to travel to the United States if they wished to discuss their research interests in a wider forum than that offered by specialised symposia and colloquia.
This gap in the intellectual market was filled when a group of Leeds medievalists came up with the idea for an international congress to foster interdisciplinary exchange on Medieval Studies in Europe. The result, the first IMC, attracted almost 900 delegates from all over the world. Five years on, this now annual congress has become a major event in the calendar of medievalists and IMC '99 will play host to over 1,300 scholars, 900 of whom will present papers on their research. In medieval circles `Leeds' has now become synonymous with a congress which combines academic excellence with a cheerful atmosphere.
Why has the IMC has become so established in such a short period of time? Word of mouth has, of course, been invaluable, but another answer perhaps lies in the congress's flexible structure. Each year one is guaranteed to meet over a thousand medievalists, all keen to discuss the most recent developments in research. At any given time, delegates can choose from up to twenty five parallel sessions coveting a multitude of different topics. Each session normally comprises three papers by different speakers on related themes, followed by a lively question and answer session. On a typical day at this year's congress a delegate might begin the day by attending a session on Imaging the Cistercians in historiography and art, then explore the interaction between Drama and Urban Culture in Hampshire, and, following an hour's browsing in the book-fair, go on to discover something about Hospitals in Medieval Dalmatia.
The IMC programme also features several workshops, round-table discussions and demonstrations of various kinds. In the recent past a fully operational portable forge was brought, and this year delegates will try to keep out of the firing range of a replica Mary Rose canon, courtesy of the Royal Armouries. Numerous excursions will take delegates to sites of medieval interest, including Durham and York, while Theakston Brewery at Masham provides a break in the medieval schedule. Escapism of a more exotic kind can also be encountered in an evening performance of the medieval Dutch play Esmoreit: Or the Stolen Prince by the York Settlement Players. …