Group of enthusiasts goes medieval on Dartmouth

by Lizzie Wise | 10/31/01 6:00am

In a dimly-lit room tucked away in Sanborn Library, an intimate gathering of young men and women sat at a long wooden table and sewed together scraps of fabric into pouches. The discussion was a lively one, bantering about the minutiae of candlemaking and knightly combat.

This isn't a history lesson -- just your typical weekly meeting of the Medieval Enthusiasts at Dartmouth.

MEAD is comprised of Dartmouth community members who are ardent enthusiasts of all aspects of medieval life, "except death and disease," member Zeb Lowe '03 said.

"Every member has their own interest; we just share them," Lowe explained. Those interests range from medieval cooking and embroidery to armor and combat.

The enthusiasts have honed their medieval skills not through courses at Dartmouth, but through informal study on their own leisure time, according to Lowe.

"Before I got to Dartmouth, I found a large overlap between my friends and their interest groups, [such as] science fiction and fantasy, and medieval stuff," she said.

This overlap caused Lowe to join the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), an international organization that plans educational medieval events.

Lowe's main attraction to the medieval period lies in religion, but she is also interested in calligraphy and weaponry.

Fellow MEAD and SCA member Lisa Snook, a staff member at the Interactive Media Lab, studies medieval armor and the eighth-century Vikings.

Leah Wittie, a computer science graduate student and SCA member, brings her culinary talents to MEAD. She has participated in several recreations of medieval feasts and is experienced in making Islamic meals and food "that would have been served in noble households."

The meals at the feasts are "more food than you could possibly eat," according to Leah.

On the other end of the spectrum, avid enthusiast Evan Knop '01 is especially intrigued by metalworking. But Knop has interest in all aspects of medieval life, which may be why he re-founded MEAD this fall after it had been defunct since 1995. He met with the Programming Board to rejuvenate the club during his senior spring, yet it was not until this term that MEAD started to hold meetings.

Evan wanted to restore the club "when there would be more people interested on campus."

According to Lowe, the purpose of MEAD is "to give current undergraduates an outlet and to give them the resources to explore the aspect [of medieval life] that they're interested in."

One such interested student was Brandi Hevalow '05, who has attended a few MEAD meetings since arriving at The College.

"I've read about [the medieval period] in books and saw it in movies, but I hadn't really pursued it," Hevalow said. "But now I've started, and it's fun," she added. Hevalow brings to MEAD an in-depth experience with embroidery.

Although MEAD has only held a few meetings this year, its members are organizing a medieval arts fair to be held in November, in conjunction with the Tolkien Society.

Attendees at the fair will have the opportunity to make chain-mail souvenirs and create thread from wool using drop spindles. The MEAD members also plan to put on a medieval fashion show.

Knop said that MEAD hopes to have a reading by English professor Alan Gaylord, who teaches a course on Chaucer, in the future.

Although current attendance at meetings is small, Wittie is optimistic that more Dartmouth community members will join in on the medieval fun.

"We're brand new, so that's why we're small, but we'll get bigger," she said. Knop wants to swell the ranks by encouraging faculty to join.

The medieval enthusiasts recognize a deeper meaning to their pursuits than the fun of dressing up in medieval garb and eating sumptuous feasts.

"It's interesting to see how people used to live without modern conveniences," Lowe said. "They couldn't go to J.C. Penney's to get clothing -- they had to make it."

Hevalow agreed. "It makes me realize how much I couldn't have survived," she said.