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Harry Potter books formed an important part of many childhoods

Two decades of Harry Potter

Panel brings together public, profs and alumnae

December 7, 2017 — 

There are few people who were children in the late 1990s and early 2000s who grew up without Harry Potter. Sponsored by the Winnipeg Public Library and the University of Manitoba Institute for the Humanities, the panel entitled Growing up with Harry Potter, 1997-2017 sought to explore the ways people were changed by these blockbuster books. First published in 1997, Harry Potter became the character that represented the childhood and adolescence of hundreds of thousands of young people. Now, 20 years after the initial publication, two people so affected by the books along with two professors from the University of Manitoba have presented on the ways these books impacted themselves, a generation, and entire nations.

The panel included David Watt, associate professor in the department of English, film, and theatre and Director of the Institute; Jennifer Watt, assistant professor in the Faculty of Education; Gretchen Derige (MA/15); and Katie Leitch (MA/16). The idea for the panel came about from David Watt’s idea to have a Harry Potter reading group on campus, which involved Derige and Leitch during their graduate studies. Derige says that when asked by Watt if they would like to join the reading group, “we both said yes before he even finished talking.”

Opportunities such as this are an important part of the social fabric of programs in the humanities, which provide students with knowledge that can take them in many directions. The panel provided the public and the panelists with new ways of appreciating the books that were and still are so loved. Leitch says that her education “provided me with additional skills to appreciate and understand all literature in a new way, but most importantly, it provided me with a network of people to share my love of stories with.”

Both alumnae presenters noted that there were a great number of younger readers in the audience, the next generation of ‘Potter heads’ who might one day present their own panels after studying literature. Leitch notes that as she has grown older, one of her favourite things about the books is “how the story changes with me as I grow – as I move through different stages in my life, I connect with different characters and elements of the plot.” Jennifer Watt noted as part of her presentation that several students she has encountered in the faculty of education ascribe their own creativity and creative practice to being introduced to writing through Harry Potter.

Established in 1990, the Institute for the Humanities regularly offers this type of creative, thoughtful, and timely programming both on and off campus. While the Institute is located within the Faculty of Arts, it serves the entire Humanities constituency in the University and the general community. Activities include programs, research clusters and affiliates, events, an annual graduate fellowship, and the hUManities blog.

Derige and Leitch both completed masters’ of arts in the department of English, film, and theatre, and have remained in touch with many of their cohorts cultivating their interest in and discussions about literature. Opportunities such as this help to move knowledge about literature and media beyond the academy and into the public arena, opening the discussions to a whole new world and hopefully, future students.

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