Harry Potter Takes Over the Health Sciences Library

January 29, 2015

On a cold January night, CUMC’s Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library (HSL) was filled with students, faculty, and guests looking to learn more about the history of Renaissance science and its relation to Harry Potter. The festively dressed attendees were sorted into the four houses from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff.

The themed event marked the opening of "Harry Potter's World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine," currently on display in the HSL. The exhibition encourages guests to explore the history of science and medicine through the adventures of the famous fictitious boy wizard. The exhibition has been brought to CUMC by the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, and is the second to visit the campus. It is curated by Elizabeth J. Bland.

Touring the United States since 2009, the exhibition links British author J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series to 15th- and 16th-century science and medicine. At the Jan. 28 opening, Joel A. Klein, PhD, lecturer and postdoctoral researcher in Columbia University’s Department of History and research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, gave an interactive presentation about the history of alchemy and its connection to medicine.

“The Harry Potter books have inspired and delighted millions of fans, young and old, but something that many fans might not realize is that certain characters and themes in the book were based on earlier historical traditions. One of the strongest of such influences  was  early-modern alchemy, which focused on transmuting base metals into gold or silver, but also had a major influence on the history of science and medicine,” says Dr. Klein. Throughout the program, Dr. Klein kept attendees on their toes by incorporating pertinent Harry Potter trivia questions related to alchemy.

“Delivering dynamic programs like these helps to put the HSL on the map as a future Knowledge Center, a place where our constituents can come to expand upon what they’re learning in the classroom in an innovative way,” says Melissa Mendelson, director of programming at the HSL. “As health and medical education continue to evolve to meet the needs of tomorrow’s patients and clinicians, it’s important to encourage students to have fun and be creative in how they seek out knowledge and information.”

Innovative and engaging programming is one of the many ways in which the HSL reaches the CUMC community. “Whether you’re a student, researcher, faculty member, or clinician, the library, a valuable asset to CUMC, fosters a sense of community and unites people through knowledge,” Ms. Mendelson says. “The ‘Harry Potter’s World’ event on Jan. 28 was only the first of several programs that will be offered by the future Knowledge Center.”

“Harry Potter's World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine” will be on display on the first floor of the Hammer Health Sciences Building until Feb. 28, 2015. It is free and open to members of CUMC and the surrounding community.

For more information about the exhibition, as well as upcoming programming and events at the HSL, visit library.cumc.columbia.edu.

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