Medieval Society Launches 25th Year at UCO

Medieval Society Launches 25th Year at UCO

Aaron Homjak shows his personal sword-fighting helmet to the Medieval Society during a presentation he gave on Thursday, Oct. 6 in Room 130 of the Liberal Arts building. (Ryan Naeve/The Vista)

The University of Central Oklahoma’s Medieval Society has announced that, in celebration of it’s 25th anniversary, it will be reassembling its authentic medieval trebuchet for a final display during the 42nd annual Medieval Fair in Norman.

Standing 21-feet-tall with the ability to launch a 10-15 pound projectile 300 yards, the trebuchet was built in 2001 by students as part of a project for a medieval humanities class taught by humanities professor Stephen Law. It was designed as an replica of an English medieval trebuchet, built using tools as similar as possible to those used in the Medieval Age.

“They wanted to do it after a trip to England with Law and he put it on their shoulders,” said Medieval Society Treasurer Robert Mize. “He said they could do it, but that they had to design it and research it. They put their heads together and, with some trial and error, designed it.”

The Medieval Society has participated in the fair for 24 years, with the trebuchet serving as the organization’s primary draw alongside its authentic medieval shields, helmets and other handcrafted projects.

An integral part of the society, the trebuchet and associated siege work has a designated officer position known as that is centered around overseeing the trebuchet’s operation and safety during displays.

“My job will be to inform the general public about what the trebuchet was and would have been used for, and to keep people at a safe distance as we explain and watch the trebuchet’s dry launch,” said Elizabeth Shuffield, the society’s current siege master.

While the trebuchet is perhaps the society’s biggest undertaking, other projects have included the construction of an authentic Viking longboat in 2007 and last year’s handcrafting of medieval shields.

Learning about the period through hands-on activities is a central part of the society’s work. In addition to the workshops hosted for crafting the projects, the society also participates in other authentic activities including feasts and skirmishes.

These skirmishes can be as simple as basic combat displays or participation in large-scale battles. In 2000 and 2006, the society traveled to England to participate in the annual reenactment of the Battle of Hastings.

While medieval style clashes and craftsmanship are big parts of the society’s culture, the heart of the organization remains focused on the interdisciplinary study of the Middle Ages and the associated humanities studies of the time period between A.D. 500-1500.

“We are primarily an academic organization,” Mize said. “We do look at the medieval era and we do try to do recreation to lead to a better understanding of not just learning about the culture by reading a book or writing a paper, but also actually trying to live it and trying to apply it.”

The organization itself was created by Law’s students in 1993 as part of a medieval humanities course. It gave students a way to better understand the period outside of the classroom.

The society hosts monthly medieval history and culture presentations by professors and professionals in the field of Middle Age humanities from UCO, as well as other universities, such as the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.

“In the Middle Ages, on an academic level, there’s a lot you can actually do, especially with a humanities degree,” said Raven Wahkinney, Medieval Society vice president.

The developing field of digital humanities is one of the areas Wahkinney cited, a field where researchers utilize digital imaging software and other programs to analyze and study cultures and artifacts.

“You can potentially at least get grants to do this stuff with technology in a major where people usually go ‘I can teach or do nothing,’ but there’s more you can do with it,” Wahkinney said.

While the society’s activities and purpose have remained constant over the last 25 years, the scope of its projects fluctuate depending on the size and involvement of the organization’s membership.

In spite of promoting activities and maintaining an active presence on campus, engaged membership and awareness for the society have gone down largely for what they believe to be a misunderstanding in the organization’s purpose.

“It’s easy to put up a sign that says ‘free pizza, free music,’ but it’s a little bit more challenging to bring someone into an academic organization,” Mize said. “It takes someone with dedication who finds it interesting and is willing to stick with it.”

Meetings are at 3:30 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month, though the location is still to be determined. Along with the regular presentations, the rebuilding of the trebuchet for the Medieval Fair on April 6-8 is serving as the society’s central project for the semester.

The society also hopes to use its anniversary as a time to promote their activities, focusing as much on rebuilding membership and interest in the organization as in rebuilding the trebuchet.

“We need people who are genuinely interested, not just in the Middle Ages, but humanities in general, because this may or may not be the last semester for it to be the way it is today and we want to keep it going,” Wahkinney said.

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