Harry Potter was the theme of a unique undergraduate psychology class taught by two Vanderbilt professors in Oxford, England over spring break, March 1-9.
Harry Potter: Child Development and Children’s Literature was led by Georgene Troseth, associate professor of psychology, and Emily Pendergrass, lecturer in education, at Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development. Twenty-four Vanderbilt students participated in the class.
The U.K. trip included visits to Cambridge, Oxford and London, where students visited film sets and locations for the Harry Potter movies and participated in lectures and discussions that delved deep into the lore of J.K. Rowling’s iconic apprentice wizard and other classic children’s literature characters.
“Developmental psychology textbooks often invent a fictional child as an example to follow through development, so our starting point is the orphaned Harry Potter, a resilient child who overcomes poor rearing conditions to thrive,” Troseth said. “According to research on real orphans, children in adversity who have talent and charming personalities tend to draw adult mentors who then foster positive development, which is certainly true of the fictional Harry.”
In Oxford, the students visited the staircase of Christ Church College, where Professor Minerva McGonagall (played by Maggie Smith) welcomed the first-year sorcery students, and the dining hall, which was the inspiration for the Great Hall in Hogwarts Castle. In London, they stopped by the famous site of platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station. The class also traveled to Warner Bros. Studios outside London, where they toured sets of the Great Hall, the Gryffindor Common Room and Diagon Alley, among others.
Also on the schedule were stops at historic locations linked to Rowling and other British children’s authors. The students discussed C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe over lunch at The Eagle and the Child, a pub where Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien met weekly with their literary group, The Inklings. The class visited the Roald Dahl Museum, and took in a London performance of Matilda the Musical, a play based on Dahl’s dark children’s book Matilda.
“Students sometimes take this class thinking it’s going to be ‘fluffy,’” Troseth said. “It is a lot of fun, but the students work their heads off and learn tons.”
Although Troseth has taught a Harry Potter-themed class as a Peabody writing seminar for a number of years, this was the second year the class included travel abroad. To see images from the trip, visit the Vandy Goes Potter blog.