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Durham University…of Witchcraft and Wizardry?

Cover photo credit lillyrose92

Reaching the end of the first week of term is always a good feeling, but nothing quite beats spending Friday afternoon standing in the Great Hall of Durham Castle, wearing my gown, and helping a new cohort of students to be sorted into their houses. If like me you’re a bit obsessed with Harry Potter, then you’ll be disappointed to hear that I haven’t just stumbled upon Hogwarts – but this sorting ceremony does mark the tenth year that Durham students have been given the opportunity to officially study the phenomenon of the ‘Potterverse’.

Dr Martin Richardson, the module convenor and prefects who help with the ‘Sorting Ceremony’

The module is titled ‘Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion’, and while it sits within the Education department, it is available to students of any discipline and covers a huge range of topics, including the school system, gender, morality, and prejudice. Now, as you can probably guess, finding out that this module existed was possibly one of the most exciting moments of my life – for context, I watch the movies whenever they’re on TV, I’ve visited the Warner Bros. Studio Tour three times, and I’ve re-read the books more times than I should admit (especially considering I’m an English student, and probably should’ve been reading Dickens or something instead).

But I’m definitely not the only one who feels this way, and when chatting to Dr Martin Richardson – the creator and convenor of the module – it was amazing to learn that he’s never made any attempt to actively advertise or promote it to students. I shouldn’t be surprised though, as Durham is no stranger to the Harry Potter fanbase; our Cathedral Cloisters and Chapter House featured in the first two films, and Castle’s Dining Hall ended up being the inspiration for Hogwarts’ Great Hall after the college refused to let the film crew use it in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone!

The ‘Sorting Ceremony’ in the Great Hall

I can barely remember how I came across the module myself, but the journey from my own Sorting Ceremony to becoming a prefect at this years has been extremely memorable. I remember initially feeling disappointed to have been placed in Hufflepuff, as a true Gryffindor (verified by the totally unbiased Pottermore), but I still got excited about the prospect of house points, which were earnt through attendance, contributions in seminars, and essay marks. My eagerness wasn’t for nothing either, as I was honoured with the title of ‘Head Girl’ for my individual house point total. Undoubtedly one of my proudest moments – it’ll definitely be going on my CV.

During the year, I ended up writing essays on everything from the treatment of minorities and the nature of rebellion, to journeys and regret. As Martin says, there’s scope for exploring almost any issue through the series, and he recalls a fascinating essay once written by a Psychology student about Harry and survivors’ guilt. We also discuss how the module has had to adapt over time to incorporate developments within our wider society, and there’s no doubt that even after ten years, the issues raised by it continue to be relevant.

Martin tells me that although the furore that greeted the creation of the module has somewhat died down (bearing in mind that the Castle had to be policed during the very first Sorting), he still thinks that the ‘Potterverse’ is very much alive in the cultural consciousness of our world. There’s uncertainty about whether the module will continue beyond this year, and I really hope that it will – it’s certainly re-ignited my love for the series, as well as making me ask myself some pretty deep questions about a school of magic and a boy wizard.

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Sunita Ramani

Hi, I’m Sunita – a third-year English Literature student at Castle. I thrive off taking on a dangerous number of extra-curricular activities, so when I’m not creating decorations for our termly college balls, you might find me in my food element as President of the Vegetarian and Vegan Society, mentoring secondary school students across the North East, or dishing out tea and biscuits as a Welfare Officer (to name only a few!)
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