Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine

UCSD Libraries sponsor U.S. National Library of Medicine exhibit and lecture series May 6 - June 16

Illustration of an apothecary lesson. Hieronymus Brunschwig, Liber de Arte Distillandi de Compositis, 1512. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

Harry Potter novels are perceived to be sheer fantasy by many, a product of the wildly creative imagination of author J.K. Rowling. However, according to no less a source than the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the magical spells, potions, and wizardry depicted in the Harry Potter books is rooted in Renaissance traditions that formed the basis for today’s modern science and medicine. An exhibit that will shed light on these traditions, "Harry Potter's World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine," will be presented from May 6 through June 16, 2012, in Geisel Library. The UC San Diego Libraries were selected by the U.S. National Library of Medicine to host the traveling exhibit, which is making only its second appearance in California.

To complement and further illuminate the concepts raised in the exhibit, the Libraries will also hold a series of lectures by UC San Diego faculty members. The exhibit features materials from the National Library of Medicine's collections, and includes six illustrated banners describing alchemy, herbology, astrology, and natural philosophy practices, among others, depicted in the Harry Potter canon.

Harry Potter’s World
letterhead with owl.

Trading Cards from Harry Potter’s World Exhibition. Courtesy National Library of Medicine.

Illustration of merpeople. The Workes of Ambrose Parey, translated out of Latin, 1634. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

Hortus Sanitatis, 1491.
Courtesy National Library of Medicine.

An opening reception for the "Harry Potter's World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine" exhibit took place in the Seuss Room in Geisel Library on May 10 and included, Potter-themed refreshments and entertainment—followed by a fascinating talk by Seth Lerer, dean of Arts & Humanities at UC San Diego, on "Harry Potter and the Magic of Books," delivered to a standing room only crowd. Lerer, a distinguished professor of Literature and one of the world's top scholars of Medieval and Renaissance studies and children's literature, is the author of numerous articles and books, including the award-winning Children's Literature: A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter and Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language. He is also the editor of The Wind in the Willows: An Annotated Edition.

Illustration of dragon Konrad Gesner, Historiae Animalium, 1551. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

Other faculty lectures will include:

"From Beliefs and Spells to the Scientific Method: The Long, Slow Journey from Magic to the Medical Arts." May 17, 12 to 1 p.m., Biomedical Library Events Room. Dr. Henry Powell, professor of Pathology, UC San Diego School of Medicine.

"Harry Potter and the Secrets of Order: Knowledge and Power from Renaissance to Hogwarts." May 24, 12 to 1 p.m., Seuss Room in Geisel Library. Professor of Literature Stephen Potts.

"Juggling Mathematics and Magic." May 31, 3 to 4 p.m., Science & Engineering Library Events Room, Geisel Library. "Mathemagician" and master juggler Ronald Graham, the Irwin and Joan Jacobs Professor of Computer Science and Engineering.

For more information about the National Library of Medicine's "Harry Potter's World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine" exhibit visit:

For more information and to register for the talks:

Exhibits & Events

"Island Arts: Images from the Tuzin Archive for Melanesian Anthropology."

  • May 1 - June 30
  • Geisel Library exhibit.
  • For more information:
  • (858) 534-6193
  • Webpage.

"Harry Potter's World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine."

  • May 6 - June 16
  • Geisel Library exhibit.
  • For more information:
  • (858) 534-6193
  • Webpage.

"From Beliefs and Spells to Scientific Method."

  • May 17
  • Talk by Dr. Henry Powell.
  • Harry Potter exhibit
    and lecture series.
  • Biomedical Library.
  • For more information:
  • (858) 534-6193
  • Register here

Holocaust Living History Workshop "Witnessing History" Events.

  • May 23 & June 6
  • Geisel Library, Seuss Room.
  • 5 - 7p.m.
  • For more information:
  • (858) 534-7661
  • Webpage.

"Harry Potter and the Secrets of Order: Knowledge and Power from Renaissance to Hogwarts."

  • May 24
  • Talk by Stephen Potts.
  • Harry Potter exhibit
    and lecture series.
  • Geisel Library.
  • For more information:
  • (858) 534-6193
  • Register here.

San Diego Book Arts 4th National Juried Exhibition.

  • May 26 - July 8
  • Geisel Library exhibit.
  • For more information:
  • (858) 534-2544
  • Webpage.

"Juggling Mathematics and Magic."

  • May 31
  • Talk by Professor Ronald Graham.
  • Harry Potter exhibit and lecture series.
  • Geisel Library exhibit.
  • For more information:
  • (858) 534-2533
  • Register here.

San Diego Book Arts 4th National Juried Exhibition

  • June 2
  • Opening Reception.
  • Geisel Library.
  • Mandeville Special Collections.
  • For more information:
  • (858) 534-2533
  • Webpage.

Domain Editor

Dolores Davies

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