Month-Long Exhibit Honors Harry Potter at Kenyon
An exhibit from the National Institutes of Health and even beer tastings bring Harry Potter to life.
Published: Thursday, March 29, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
From parchment to butterbeer, from trivia to potions, Kenyon has opened its doors to the world of Harry Potter for a month-long exhibit called “Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine,” which connects author J.K. Rowling’s fictional tales with real-life texts and early medicinal remedies.
Special Collections will host the exhibit from March 11 to April 21. A series of talks, events and presentations by Kenyon professors will supplement the show.
The first of these events, “Parchment and Power: Magic and Medieval Manuscripts,” took place during common hour on March 20 in the Graham Gund Community Theater. Professor of Art History Sarah Blick, dressed in a black witch’s costume complete with pointed hat, explained that many of the spell books in the Harry Potter series have roots in actual texts read by supposed sorcerers and muggles alike.
The Monster Book of Monsters, for example, is the Harry Potter world’s dangerous, lively version of a bestiary, a compendium of creatures and animals popular during the Middle Ages. The sacred properties of parchment itself led to many texts, especially religious ones, receiving special veneration and acquiring mystical uses. In some cases, readers would remove pages from medical texts and affix them to the site of a wound in hopes of healing it.
Blick also discussed the dangers associated with a creature called the mandrake. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, these magical creatures resembled babies planted in pots who screamed when they were uprooted. Blick said old herbal textbooks did in fact warn botanists to beware the screams of these creatures, whose cherubic appearance in these books closely resembled their onscreen portrayal in the second Potter film.
For aspiring wizards who want to learn more about basilisks, spells and the rest of Blick’s talk, the poster gallery in Olin Library features more information about these and other topics. The posters, with titles like “Herbology,” “Magical Creatures” and “Fantastic Beasts,” connect text from Rowling’s novels with corresponding historical accounts.
Kenyon will continue to spotlight Harry Potter until the Olin exhibit closes on April 21. In addition to the “Parchment and Power” talk and a potions lecture, there will be a Potter trivia night, a Herbology lesson, an astronomy class, a second potions lecture and an “arithmancy” talk. The trivia night will feature a variety of Harry Potter-themed prizes, and the upcoming potions session will conjure up freshly-brewed beer (with nonalcoholic butterbeer available for those under 21).
Lynn Manner, who manages Kenyon’s Special Collections, said this traveling exhibit is a project of the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine. Three years ago, several library staff members applied for Kenyon to be one of the exhibit’s hosts. “We asked for this time period because of the already established Harry Potter Day here at Kenyon,” Manner said.
“We thought that there was an opportunity for some fun and interesting programs that we could do along with faculty and others here.”
For Manner, part of the exhibit’s appeal is that it showcases the real-world wizardry of the Renaissance period’s great thinkers. She described them as “an amazing group of people who provided a wonderful foundation for our later studies in subjects like chemistry and botany.” Manner hopes students will want to learn more about this Renaissance-era zoological text after seeing it on an exhibit panel. “Special Collections [has] many beautiful examples of pre-1700 math and science books,” she said.
The connections between Harry Potter and our world provided a rich source of inspiration for the event planners as well. Sarah Bush ’12, who works in Special Collections, said that while Harry Potter’s education was partly fictional, his classes were also based on the building blocks of science, medicine and philosophy.
The posters in the library present characters like scientist Nicholas Flamel and connect them to their real-life counterparts. Themes such as taking control over the natural world and resisting the temptation of power were woven throughout Renaissance medicine and science, and this exhibit aims to bring those connections to life.
Bush, who organized the Herbology talk in partnership with the Brown Family Environmental Center and coordinated with prize sponsors for the trivia night, also helped plan the beer-brewing event. “The people involved in it [and] the primitive techniques that they’re going to use … [embody] the silly, enthusiastic, fun spirit of Harry Potter Day,” she said.
The fact that the exhibit builds on Kenyon’s traditional Harry Potter Day gives the educational material a nostalgic conduit with which to appeal to students. “So many of us grew up reading [Harry Potter] and we loved it and wanted it to be real, and this [exhibit] makes it real,” Bush said.
This year, Harry Potter Day is Friday, March 30. The day’s events include a scavenger hunt, costume contest, readings from the books, “wand” (pretzel rod) decorating, a themed dinner in Peirce and a screening of “A Very Potter Musical.”