If you’ve always thought the books in the wildly popular Harry Potter series were only meant to be read for fun, think again.
This fall, Saint Leo University currently has an undergraduate English course devoted entirely to studying the literary brilliance of the best-selling book series of all time. Fittingly, the class is simply called The World of Harry Potter.
We caught up with Dr. Kathryn Duncan, an English professor who teaches the course, to find out what inspired her to offer such a curriculum and what types of unique activities her students are doing.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The World of Harry Potter Course, and when did Saint Leo begin offering it?
A: I first taught this class four years ago, and it was the most fun I had teaching in my life.
Since we’re now celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Harry Potter series this year, we decided what better time than now to bring it back? There’s even a display for the series at the British Library.hARRY hA
Harry Potter is very much back on the radar and is so important and relevant to this current generation of students.
Q: Are you a big fan of the series yourself?
A: Absolutely, and that’s an understatement.
I’ve read and reread the books in this series more times than I can count, and I’ve watched and re-watched all of the movies. I’ve also shared all of this with my daughter. We’re both big fans now.
Q: Why do you think this series has been so popular among younger readers?
A: J. K. Rowling truly understands childhood development. She addresses so many issues of the younger age group of those growing up. The messages she communicates are so important.
Also, death is one of the major themes in this series. It’s often covered up in Western culture, which makes it larger and scarier for some, but Rowling addresses it in a way that kids can easily understand the human condition.
The books are very well-written, and I see influences from Jane Austin and Charles Dickens in Rowling’s writing style.
Q: Which books are covered in this class?
A: All of the books in the series are covered, which consist of:
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Q: Who is eligible to take this class?
A: The main requirement to enroll in this class is that students must have completed Academic Writing II. It’s considered a special topics class, so really any student in any major can take it.
But the other big factor is that students must be able to go on the class trip to Europe. So many people asked about taking the course. In fact, we were overloaded with registrations for it. That’s why we ended up having to turn down quite a few students. I still would like to try teaching this without the trip attached.
I should mention that one of the students in the class is a former Marine, and he had a great job opportunity to work over in the Middle East. When he found out I was going to offer this course, he decided to stay stateside and take it instead.
Q: What kinds of projects are students doing in this class?
A: The students are doing quite a variety of projects.
One of them was to write a paper on a relevant topic, but I kind of made it open-ended. I received conventional papers, but I also got some newsletter-style projects and a manual written in the voice of the character Rubeus Hagrid. Someone else wrote an actual letter.
We are also doing a poster competition.
Another project is to make some sort of adaptation – anything from baking something to sewing something to making a drink. They then have to write a short essay explaining their creation. If they don’t actually make something, they can write a sales pitch for a product related to the series.
Then there is the video or storyboard project, and we’ll be having outside judges involved in scoring these.
Finally, students will be required to create a travel book with photos and stories about their experiences on the class trip.
Q: What is involved in the class trip the students will be taking to Europe?
A: We are incredibly excited to offer a “Harry Potter adventure” overseas in this course.
We will be touring England and Scotland for about 9 days toward the end of November. We are scheduled to visit some of the locations of where the Harry Potter movies have been filmed, along with other locations referenced in the series.
Some of the places on our itinerary include:
- Westminster Abbey
- The Bodleian Library
- New College
- Christ Church
- Warner Bros. Harry Potter World
- Tower of London
- Trafalgar Square
- Covent Gardens
- The British Museum
- The National Gallery
- Piccadilly Circus
- The British Library
- Kings Cross Station
- Edinburgh Castle
- The National Museum of Scotland
- The Balmoral Hotel
- The Harry Potter Trail
- Holyrood Palace
Q: What are the key takeaways you hope students will walk away with from taking this course?
A: The biggest thing is that I want students to stop saying things like “I’m not creative.” The class offers lots of unique assignments that allow them to express their creativity in many ways.
Also, all but one student has been out of the country, so that’s going to be a fantastic experience for most of the class.
Q: How can Harry Potter fans learn more about this course?
A: You can view the class syllabus here. Feel free to contact myself (Dr. Kathryn Duncan) by e-mail at Kathryn.Duncan@saintleo.edu with any questions or comments.