The week before the July 21, 2007, release of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was an exciting one for fans all over the world, including some of the staff of the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.
To coincide with the release of the book, a coworker and I were asked to create — in only seven days — a two-case exhibition displaying materials from our rare book collection having a connection to Harry Potter. Before this project, I, like many Harry Potter fans, had been surprised to learn that the series not only included well-known creatures from historical lore, such as dragons and unicorns, but also historical figures, such as Nicolas Flamel, Paracelsus, and Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim. Do Mandrakes Really Scream? Magic and Medicine in Harry Potter proved to be popular with visitors and stayed on display until January 2008.
Because of the success of Do Mandrakes Really Scream? Magic and Medicine in Harry Potter, we decided to create a traveling banner exhibition to further explore the connection between Harry Potter and history. With this new exhibition, Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine, I was able to describe the historical figures, concepts, and lore that appear in Harry Potter, and also to delve into how they are used to explore topics such as the desire for knowledge, the effects of prejudice, and the responsibility that comes with power.