Students at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, will be able to enroll in a course titled "Thinking about Harry Potter" during their fall term next year.
The course's instructor, Edmund M. Kern, is the author of The Wisdom of Harry Potter: What Our Favorite Hero Teaches Us About Moral Choices (Prometheus Books, 2003).
"Today's college students are like no others in history," said Kern. "They had the chance to grow up right along with Harry Potter. I'd be foolish to pass up the teaching opportunities that those circumstances offer me."
Following closely upon the publication of the finale of JK Rowling's series, the course will be interdisciplinary in nature and focus upon Harry not only as a literary phenomenon but as the biggest pop-cultural event of the era. It will explore Rowling's stories in terms of their relation to history, legend, and myth, take up debates about their contested aesthetic merit and ethical values, and take stock of their broader social and political implications.
Enrollment in the course will be by consent of the instructor only.
"I had to find a way to keep things manageable and in line with the small class sizes typical of Lawrence courses," said Kern. For this reason, only students who have already mastered all seven books of the Harry Potter series will participate.
Kern has never demanded over four thousand pages of text as a prerequisite for a course before, and he can't imagine other circumstances that would allow him to do so again. "I'm not going to assign Rowling's books. I'm simply going to assume that my students have a copious knowledge of them," he said.
Interested students will have to write brief explanations of why they should be in the course. Kern hopes this requirement will allow students to "select themselves," but he is afraid that he might have to turn some students away. The course will involve serious scholarship, but Kern insisted it will also be fun. "I want to make sure I end up with the most dedicated fans of Harry Potter," he adds.
In keeping with the academic demands of the course, students will complete short research projects of their own design. "We might get a book of essays out of all this," Kern offered, "but ultimately, I just want my students to apply the skills they have developed in a wide variety of college courses to something that they've enjoyed, witnessed, and really been a part of.
A member of Lawrence's Department of History, Kern first heard about Harry Potter from his students. "Back in '98 or '99, they began to ask me about the books, because I teach a course on the history of religion, magic, and witchcraft. Little did I know then, how things would turn out."