A strange thing happened to me on the way to planning a trip to Universal Studios in Orlando. In my search for information on the attraction devoted to all things Harry Potter, I ended up at a website sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. It was titled Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine. After a moment of head-shaking confusion, I was hooked.
The website presents an online exhibition of ideas from the wizard-world of Harry Potter and links them to Renaissance concepts in science and medicine. For example, the Herbology section teaches that the screaming mandrakes that plagued young wizards in their herbology course were based on a Renaissance belief that mandrake roots resembled the human figure and possessed magical powers–including the fatal scream appearing in Harry Potter. The illustrations from early botanical writings look eerily Potter-esque.
Aside from the obvious flexible thinking of its creators, how does this website link to creativity? The site already provides sample lessons using their materials in grades middle school through college, but there are so many more options! Imagine some of the following.
- Choose another concept/illustration from the Renaissance period and imagine how it could be adapted to fit in Harry Potter’s world.
- Examine how scientific concepts from other periods of history form the basis for literature, particularly science fiction. Choose a concept from today’s science (perhaps from the Scientific American website) and write a story based on its implications.
- Imagine being a Renaissance scientist. Design a data-gathering process that would help prove or disprove some of the statements in early writings. This is a fine opportunity to discuss the history—and changing nature–of science.
- Harry Potter’s World is a traveling NIH exhibition, but you don’t have to wait for it to come to you! If you are studying the Renaissance, create your own exhibition. Perhaps you could even divide what you learn about the period into things that do and don’t appear in Rowling’s fiction.
I’ll bet you have even more ideas. I’d love to hear them.