From beliefs and spells to the scientific method: A long slow journey for the art of Medicine

Dr. Henry C. Powell, M.D., D.Sc. will present “From beliefs and spells to the scientific method: A long slow journey for the art of Medicine.” This lecture coincides with the UC San Diego Libraries’ hosting of “Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, & Medicine,” a traveling exhibit from the National Library of Medicine. The libraries will be hosting several events in connection with this exhibit.

From a room in a cupboard under the stairs to a room in a castle, the story of Harry Potter begins with the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone in the UK) and sends a young boy on new adventures, both intellectual and physical. The foundation of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry sprung from the early Renaissance period and it is here where “muggle” reality intertwines with literary fiction. Science and medicine were developed and nurtured with lessons learned by experts in alchemy, botany, surgery, as well as theologians. Scientists from long ago include Paracelsus, Flamel, Paré, Harvey and they often benefited from the work of more familiar artists such as van Calcar, Michelangelo and Alberti.

The advance of human knowledge was not an easy road and it often required challenging the current “authority.” This often exacted a personal price. Medicine benefited from the growing understanding of botany, alchemy, anatomy, and art. This talk will fill in some of the details of why, even with this growing understanding, magic and the Philosopher’s Stone retained such enduring appeal. For the full talk abstract, please see

Dr. Powell is Professor of Pathology (Neuropathology) and directs the Clinical Electron Microscopy service at UC San Diego Medical Center.  He teaches medical and pharmacy students and co-directs the Histology and Pathology “threads” for the School of Medicine.  His work has focused on pathology of the peripheral nervous system and he has produced about two hundred publications related to his research interests in the effects of diabetes on the peripheral nervous system.  From 2006-2007 he served as chair of the divisional Academic Senate at UC San Diego, and from 2008-2010 as Vice Chair and Chair of the systemwide Academic Council and Faculty Representative to the UC Regents.  Dr Powell’s interests include the history of medicine as well as the history of recorded music.

Space is limited so RSVP at as soon as possible in order to reserve a seat.  Feel free to bring a discreet lunch; cookies and water will be provided.


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