“Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic and Medicine” is an exhibit on loan to the college from the National Library of Medicine. The exhibit shows how Harry Potter’s adventures at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry actually have their basis in the early history of science and medicine.
On August 12, Mark Waddell, Ph.D., a historian of early modern science and medicine, spoke at the college about what Renaissance medicine means to us today. Dr. Waddell’s research focuses on the intersections between science, religion and art in the Jesuit order, and he has developed an undergraduate curriculum on Harry Potter and medical history.
He told the audience that the subjects of astrology, alchemy and chemistry had their basis in early world history and the treatment of disease. Early chemists sought to cure the Plague and slow the aging process, while physicians looked to the heavens to find treatments for physical ailments. “To be a physician, you had to be very skilled in astrology,” Dr. Waddell said, noting that early doctors believed leg ailments were linked to the astrological sign of Sagittarius and would plan their treatments accordingly.
The historian, who teaches in the Lyman Briggs College of Science at Michigan State University, said researchers from today and centuries ago really aren’t that different. “They all wanted to know how everything worked,” he said. “They knew that the world was full of hidden things and they wanted to find them and use them.”
Dr. Waddell is a big fan of Harry Potter and even bought two copies of the original book – one in English and one in Latin, so he could practice that language. He was delighted to see Library Director Nadine Dexter decked out in a Harry Potter robe, scarf and wand in honor of the exhibit. Nadine credits the Harry Potter books with helping her teen-age son improve his reading. The two participated in an interview with MSNBC about the library exhibit.