Harry Potter's World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine
May 12, 2017

UCR Library is presenting a pop-up exhibition about the historical roots of Harry Potter.

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” And, it is with pleasure that the UCR Library Special Collections has chosen to present Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine an exhibition at the Rivera Library from Monday, May 15 to Saturday, June 23.

This traveling exhibition was originally developed and produced by the Exhibition Program at the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, and curated by Elizabeth J. Bland. The exhibit panels explore Harry Potter’s world, its roots in Renaissance science, and the ethical questions that effected not only the wizards of Harry Potter, but also the historical thinkers featured in the series.

As a complement to the traveling exhibition, also showcased will be selections from the UCR Library’s Special Collections 16th to 19th century original illustrated materials related to magic, witchcraft, herbal medicine, magical creatures and fantastic beasts.  Included are some of the foundational works which serve as sources for Harry Potter’s magical world of wonder and wizarding.  

“These early illustrated printed materials are crucial in their ability to transmit a wide body of knowledge about science and medicine over a broad geographical expanse. For example, one of the works on display will be Gerard’s Herbal, printed in London in 1597. It’s the first work to record and describe American plants, and it also includes early printed images and descriptions of deadly Nightshade and Mandrake, both of which figure prominently in the Potter novels,” noted Cherry Williams, the UCR Library’s Director of Distinctive Collections.  The Special Collections display will also include Ulisse Aldrovandi’s illustrated work on the history of dragons and serpents printed in 1640 in Bologna Italy.

In 1997, British author J. K. Rowling introduced the world to Harry Potter and a literary phenomenon was born. Millions of readers have followed Harry to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he discovers his heritage, encounters new plants and animals, and perfects his magical abilities.

According to the National Library of Medicine, “Although it is a fantasy story, the magic in the Harry Potter books is partially based on Renaissance traditions that played an important role in the development of Western science - including alchemy, astrology, and natural philosophy, …Incorporating the work of several 15th- and 16th-century thinkers, the … series examines important ethical topics such as the desire for knowledge, the effects of prejudice, and the responsibility that comes with power.”

Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine will be located in the Special Collections Department located on the fourth floor of the Rivera Library – which is open Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about the pop-up exhibition, please visit the UCR Library’s Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine exhibition event website.