From Basilisks to Bezoars: The Surprising History of Harry Potter’s Magical World

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Care of Magical Creatures
Care of Magical Creatures
J.K. Rowling’s series, much like sixteenth- and seventeenth-century natural histories, contains many beasts and mysterious creatures, ranging from the recognizable to the fantastic. During that time period, people relied on accounts of travelers and seafarers who documented the exotic creatures they encountered. Study up on these, and you’ll be able to list the differences between the basilisk (a mythical reptile) and your garden-variety snake. Disclaimer: This exhibition is not licensed or endorsed by Warner Bros. or J.K. Rowling.
Defense Against the Dark Arts
Defense Against the Dark Arts
Harry’s scar serves as a constant reminder that it is a dangerous world out there, with powerful wizards capable of great destruction. Familiarize yourself with these Defense-Against-the-Dark-Arts protections, and you’ll feel a little more confident about facing He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named…or at least develop some strategies for making it through class unscathed. Disclaimer: This exhibition is not licensed or endorsed by Warner Bros. or J.K. Rowling.
Divination
Divination
Advanced wizards eager to answer the question “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” may enjoy reading up on the fundamentals of divination, devoted to strategies for forecasting the future. In case you’re wondering if J.K. Rowling’s centaurs had a monopoly on the art, early modern natural philosophers like Robert Fludd were very much engaged in questions related to astrology and how the planets governed human outcomes. Disclaimer: This exhibition is not licensed or endorsed by Warner Bros. or J.K. Rowling.
Herbology
Herbology
The Academy Library’s collection is particularly strong in early herbals, especially medical botany. In the fifteenth century, printers often used the same woodblocks to illustrate a wide range of plants; a century later, plants are illustrated with much greater attention to detail and accuracy. Disclaimer: This exhibition is not licensed or endorsed by Warner Bros. or J.K. Rowling.
History of Magic
History of Magic
The Academy Library’s card catalog, in service since the late nineteenth century, has a drawer devoted to witchcraft. Witches were pursued in earnest in Europe for centuries, culminating in the witch trials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The historical record offers many accounts of occult practices and witch-hunting manuals. Attention to magical tricks-of-the-trade, over time, will serve you well in your studies, and may prove to have practical applications. Disclaimer: This exhibition is not licensed or endorsed by Warner Bros. or J.K. Rowling.
Potions
Potions
Professor Snape reminds his students at the beginning of class that potions are not just a lot of wand-waving, but begin with careful attention to ingredients and technique. His recipes rely on a number of plant- and animal-based ingredients, many commonly found in early modern books. Antidotes and spells can be found in a variety of genres in the Academy Library’s collection, including cookbooks, herbals, and natural histories. Disclaimer: This exhibition is not licensed or endorsed by Warner Bros. or J.K. Rowling.
Transfiguration
Transfiguration
A core class at Hogwarts for years 1-5, Transfiguration teaches young wizards the art of changing the appearance and characteristics of an object. This course has historical roots in the practice of alchemy, embraced by a diverse group of scientific investigators interested since the Fall of Rome in changing base metals into gold and achieving the philosopher’s stone, rumored to secure eternal life. The practice of alchemy continued through the eighteenth century. Disclaimer: This exhibition is not licensed or endorsed by Warner Bros. or J.K. Rowling.