Harry Potter exhibit lifts veil on medieval magic and medicine
On Harry Potter’s first trip to school on the Hogwarts Express, he and his new friend Ron buy Chocolate Frog Cards from a candy cart. Ron explains that he has a huge collection of the trading cards but has yet to find one of Agrippa.
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, a German believer in magic, alchemy and astronomy, is just one of many allusions in J.K. Rowling’s famous series to real historical figures and occult practices in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Indeed, Rowling’s imaginative universe is based partly on early traditions that laid the foundations for Western science.
To shed light on these allusions in more detail, the U of A’s John W. Scott Health Sciences Library is hosting a travelling exhibit later this month presented by the American National Library of Medicine called Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance, Science, Magic and Medicine. The exhibit is the only Canadian stop on the show’s tour.
“We’re hoping to get people interested in history,” says Trish Chatterley, U of A librarian and co-ordinator of the exhibit. “There’s obviously a lot of interest in the Harry Potter books, but they do have elements of true history in them, and people may not realize that.”
“Incorporating the work of several 15th- and 16th-century thinkers,” states the National Library of Medicine’s program description for the exhibit, “the seven-part series examines important ethical topics such as the desire for knowledge, the effects of prejudice and the responsibility that comes with power.”
A whole roster of events will be held in conjunction with Harry Potter’s World, which runs from Jan. 15 to Feb. 25. Dean of Arts Lesley Cormack will deliver a keynote lecture on Jan. 19 called “The Real Philosopher’s Stone: Natural Philosophy and Natural Magic in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.” Jan. 28 is Harry Potter day, a chance for kids aged 7-12 to engage in fun-filled, Harry Potter-themed science experiments and other hands-on activities, including the study of potions, care of magical creatures, muggle studies, owlery and defence against the dark arts.
There are also screenings in February of the films Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with discussion hosted by Carol Hodgson, the J. Alan Gilbert Chair for Medical Education Research.
For more information on Harry Potter’s World and to see a gallery of historical figures featured in the novels, with references to their texts held in the U of A library, visit the library website at http://guides.library.ualberta.ca/harrypotterexhibit.