Kalamazoo Rendezvous (No, Not That Kind!) – or What Medievalists and Mountain Men Have in Common

It’s that time of year again – when Kalamazoo, MI, becomes the meeting place of thousands of medievalists. We descend on the small college town in packs, sometimes hordes, and as lone nomads. Every year, as I take this flight, I reflect on this unique experience. This year, I am reminded of an old custom.
Be prepared – I’m about to torture this metaphor. Fair warning.
The American mountain men of the 19th century spent their lives hunting and trapping, most often alone in the wilderness, particularly  up in the Rockies. They perfected their craft (if they didn’t, they didn’t last long). They were befriended by Native Americans – at least, if they saw them – and learned their ways. They spent long winters snowed in with their thoughts for company. Then, in the spring, they would make their way down the mountains to “civilization,” and there they gathered, along with merchants and traders eager to buy their furs and sell supplies. But it was more than a market. These solitary men took their fill of society, spent their newly-acquired money, competed in games, ate and drank with the gusto born from battling Mother Nature for months. When they were done, they returned to their mountains, probably broke as they had no real need of money during the year, to begin the cycle over again. These gatherings were aptly named the Rendezvous.
Perhaps it’s unnecessary for me to unpack the metaphor, but let me have my fun. Medievalists at universities are often the lone faculty member studying our particular specialty. We learn from colleagues who have different sub-fields, but our scholarship is generally done in isolation from others of our ilk (for the sake of my metaphor, I will ignore this invention called the internet). We hone our research and practice our craft, while toiling away at teaching and service.
Then, in the spring, we come out of our universities and from under our mountains of grading, and, with the fruit of our labor in hand, we journey to Kalamazoo with so many others just like us, ones with whom we share histories or ones we meet for the first time. We see old friends, and we gain new knowledge. We write furiously; listen euphorically; discuss passionately; network frantically; buy generously; celebrate enthusiastically; and eat and drink merrily. When it’s over, we leave – some regretfully, some triumphantly, some satiated, some animated – knowing we’ll return again the following year.
The ice has thawed, and spring is here again. See you at the Rendezvous.


Filed under Conferences, Kalamazoo

3 responses to “Kalamazoo Rendezvous (No, Not That Kind!) – or What Medievalists and Mountain Men Have in Common

  1. Pingback: Kalamazoo blogs and videos | Anna Smol

  2. Excellent! I think I shall start calling it Rendezvous henceforth!

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