By Erika Mills ~
J. K. Rowling published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the debut novel in the seven-book series that became a pop culture phenomenon, on June 26, 1997. Over the past two decades, the exploits of the boy wizard and his friends have spawned successful cinematic and theater adaptations, developed a devoted and enthusiastic global fandom, inspired admirers to create Harry Potter-themed art and media, instilled important moral lessons into a generation of young people now coming of age, and even added to the English lexicon! (See: “Muggle” in the Oxford English Dictionary.) The NLM History of Medicine Division celebrates the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter with special events onsite, as well as a five-post series in Circulating Now.
While the world reflects on 20 years of Harry Potter, we look back further in time—to the Renaissance—at the history that inspired some of the magic, characters, and settings in book and film series. For the week of June 26th, NLM hosts a special display of rare books from our world-renowned collections, produced by real-life naturalists like Nicolas Flamel and Paracelsus, who feature as figures in wizarding history in the Harry Potter series; as well as Ambroise Paré, Conrad Gessner, and others whose work in alchemy, astrology, and natural philosophy helped shape Western science and influenced Harry Potter. The display is accompanied by the our traveling exhibition Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine, which explores Harry Potter’s roots in the Renaissance and highlights the important ethical topics Rowling’s stories examine.
For those who cannot visit in person, we have launched a permanent, online curated collection of the 15th, 16th, and 17th-century books that will appear in the week-long display, as well as related works. All are digitized and accessible through the online adaptation of Harry Potter’s World.
In addition to the special display, we are offering two lectures as part of the week-long appreciation of the Harry Potter series. On June 27th at 2:00pm, the curator of Harry Potter’s World, Elizabeth Bland, presents “A Look into the Pensieve: Reflections on Harry Potter at Twenty Years.” Then, on June 29th at 2:00pm, Stephen Greenberg, PhD, Head of Rare Books & Early Manuscripts at NLM gives a talk titled “Monsters in the Stacks: How Harry Potter Came to NLM.” Both lectures will be live-streamed globally. More information is available on the NLM History of Medicine Lecture Series website.
Circulating Now kicks off its celebration of two decades of Harry Potter with this post, followed by an interview with Elizabeth Bland, a look at our traveling and online exhibition Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine, an interview with Stephen Greenberg, and an exploration of the NLM herb garden, which features plants used historically for medicinal purposes that are similar to the plants Harry Potter and his classmates study in their herbology class.
Erika Mills is outreach coordinator for the Exhibition Program in the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine.