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When Harry Potter is in the Classroom, Cameras roll


On Thursday, Sept. 18, Professor of English Literature Melinda Finberg’s first-year seminar Battling Against Voldemort was filmed by MTV as part of a segment on the phenomenon of Harry Potter books appearing in College curricula.

The class, which studies J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series in addition to a number of other related texts such as J.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy, attempts to “understand why we are so driven to invent stories about battling inhuman powers to learn what it means to be human,” according to the course description. It was filmed as an example of the use of Harry Potter in an English literature class. At other schools, MTV filmed the books being used in other academic disciplines such as religion and history.

Only one cameraperson stayed in the room with the students while they discussed the fifth book of the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

“The filming was as smooth as could be,” Finberg said.

Although most students agreed that being filmed during class was strange at first, they didn’t feel that it was a complete disruption. “It was kind of awkward to begin with, but once we really started our discussion, it was good—very intense,” Owen Masters ’12 said.

Battling Against Voldemort, which Finberg taught last year as well, is very popular and is consistently over-enrolled. Finberg says that she has “always been fascinated by myths and why we feel the need to tell stories over and over again.”

She explains that the first semester she taught the course, she had been “very ambitious” and used a wide variety of related texts but that the course now focuses primarily on 20th- and 21st-century myths, enabling the class to think more easily about the socio-historic context of the Potter books.

The English Department is not the only one to profit from J.K. Rowling’s popular series. William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Political Science Kenneth Sharpe says he uses it regularly in his Reason, Power, and Happiness course as well as the Practical Wisdom seminar he teaches with Dorwin P. Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action Barry Schwartz.

“We use it to get at why rules are not sufficient for ethical action because what is missing is practical wisdom; and we look at how Harry, Ron, and Hermione learn practical wisdom through the experiences of making mistakes and the guidance of mentors like Dumbledore,” Sharpe says.

—Adapted from “MTV films and showcases
new Harry Potter seminar,” by Alexander Rolle ’12,

The Phoenix, Sept. 25, 2008

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