University Relations and Communications

Harry Potter's world of science, medicine explored in MSU Billings lectures, display

September 30, 2011



Eileen Wright, MSU Billings Library, 657-1656
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


Faculty tackle medieval issues related to history, philosophy and alchemy


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — When British writer J.K. Rowling introduced the world to Harry Potter, the only known survivor of a “Killing Curse,” she let loose a worldwide reading phenomenon. Rowling’s series have been published in 66 languages in more than 200 countries and the “boy who lived” created millions of readers.


Eileen Wright, left, and Megan ThomasBut there is more to the Harry Potter series than childhood adventures. Many characters, plants and creatures are based in history, medicine and magical lore.  The author drew on important works of alchemy and herbology in shaping her stories.


That history, herbology and alchemy are the focus of a series of lectures and a display sponsored in October by the Montana State University Billings Library.


“Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic and Medicine” will be the featured exhibit and subject of special faculty lectures starting on Saturday, Oct. 8. All events are FREE and take place at the MSU Billings Library on the MSU Billings four-year campus, 1500 University Drive.


The book display, decorations and events are all designed to be fun and educational, said Eileen Wright, a reference librarian at MSU Billings who secured a grant to bring the display to Billings.


The fun begins on Saturday, Oct. 8, with a “Hogwarts Carnival” from 10 a.m. to noon at the library. Designed for children ages 12 and under, the carnival will feature game and activities.


Those who attend the carnival can also see six panels of medical and science information that relates to “Harry Potter’s World.” The six-foot panels are on loan from the National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health and relate information on what the alchemists and naturalists did centuries ago and were used heavily in Rowling’s books.


Wright said the Potter books and the historic information could possibly be eye-opening for many people, even those who are Potter aficionados.


“The book touches everyone’s life. Whether you liked it or hated it, it brings discussion to everyone’s table,” she said.


Brent Roberts, director of the MSU Billings Library, said he has been pleased by the level of interest expressed by faculty members in the “Harry Potter’s World” display and lectures. Faculty and staff — whether on their own or through their children — seem to have a renewed connection to the books on different levels, he said.


The lectures feature a variety of MSU Billings interests and expertise, ranging from history to health to philosophy. The special lectures are:

  • Tuesday, Oct. 11, 7 p.m. — “Leeches, Unicorn Horn and Wolf’s Nipples: Medieval Medicines, Magic and Witchcraft.” Presented by Dr. Tom Rust, assistant professor of History, the lecture discusses exactly why medieval healthcare providers used leeches and delves into the world view and cultural context of that time.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 18, 7 p.m. — “A Herbal, Magical and Medicinal Tale during a Journey through Medieval Time.” Presented by Dr. Kathe Gable, assistant professor in the Health and Human Performance Department, the lecture will look at how people in medieval times saw herbs as nature’s way of defeating evil and treating disease. Gable will discuss how lungwort was viewed as a cure for tuberculosis and seeds of skullcap were seen as viable options for headaches.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 25, 7 p.m. — “Bad Witch, Good Witch, Wizard, Hero.” Presented by Dr. Bill Kamowski, Professor of Philosophy. In the Harry Potter novels, J.K. Rowling drew heavily on ancient and medieval “witch” traditions to depict a modern version of the traditional hero. Kamowski will look at these archetypes within the context of contemporary attitudes toward education and power, especially because of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The month culminates with a “Harry Potter Halloween” atmosphere at the library on Monday, Oct. 31.


For more information on the event and display, call 657-1656.


PHOTO ABOVE: MSU Billings reference librarians Eileen Wright, left, and Megan Thomas worked to gather information, books and resources for a  display and lecture series on “Harry Potter’s World” to be held at MSU Billings in October.