Exhibit Highlights Real World Roots of Harry Potter

The exhibit highlights how many of the marvels and ideas seen within Harry Potter’s stories, such as alchemy and astrology, have real world roots as traditional Renaissance traditions. 

The exhibit, running from May 6 to June 16, consists of a number of displays and events, including guest lectures by Professors Henry Powell of the UCSD School of Medicine, Robert Graham of the Jacobs School of Engineering, Literature Professor Stephen Potts and the Dean of UCSD Arts and Humanities Seth Lerer.

Professor Lerer, a former teacher at Stanford and Princeton and author of Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter, is interested in how the Harry Potter universe has also portrayed books and literature from the past.

“What interests me about Harry Potter is why so many of the scenes in the books and movies take place in the library, and in my talk I suggested that wizardry is a heightened form of literacy; meaning that to be a great wizard is to be a great reader of a textbook,” Lerer said.

Many of the classes in the books, like potions, are similar to chemistry classes from both the Renaissance and present times. In a school where many aspire to be doctors, Harry Potter’s World then offers students a new perspective on Harry Potter and their own studies.

“In this exhibit it shows us that a lot about medicine and alchemy and reading is about healing, and it’s about the place of early medicine and the human body in all this,” Lerer said. “There is a lot about Harry Potter that takes us back to a world where doctors and physicians were as much magicians as they were scientists or surgeons.”

Lerer believes that this exhibit is important not just for the comparisons it brings, but also the valuable lessons it can teach to UCSD students, especially new students.

“I think one of the things that’s very difficult for a lot of people is that they feel lost in big, impersonal places,” he said. “If you grew up in a small town, or went to a small high school, and you come to a place like UCSD; it’s large and bureaucratic. There are these strange traditions; there are these hierarchies of power. Harry Potter and this exhibit can teach you how to negotiate your way around a big, bureaucratic, impersonal institution. Where a chancellor can show up as magically as a Minister of Magic.”

 For more information and a full list of events, check out http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/pressreleases/harry_potters_world_renaissance_science_magic_and_medicine/.

 For an overview of the exhibit and other locations, check out http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/harrypottersworld/.