The Harry Potter Generation

Boy wizards, elves and feisty medieval queens fighting for an iron throne inspires students to enroll at the Medieval Studies Programme, tells new director

Tales of a boy wizard and stories about elves and world-shattering  fights about an uncomfortable iron throne might have something to do with an increased flow of students interested in medieval studies, tells the new director for the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program at the University of Ottawa, Cristina Perissinotto, to the The Ottawa Citizen. While enrolment in the university’s small interdisciplinary program has usually hovered around 40 students, last year there were 58, she said. This represents a growth of more than 45%. The reason for the spike isn’t clear, Perissinotto said to journalist Neco Cockburn, but she suspects that massively popular books, movies and TV series could be playing a role.

‘They’re at that age that when they started to become interested in reading — serious books, not children’s books — Harry Potter was around. These stories come out, with beautiful packaging, and people start looking at them and being fascinated by them, and then it becomes one of those passions. … It creates a point of entry, but then they want to know more,’ she said to the newspaper.

The Harry Potter generation, however, who started out reading about  the exploits on the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft  in 1997 have already graduated. More likely the inspiration stems from the filming of Tolkiens trilogy from 2001 and the later surge in series like Henry VIII, the Borgias and not least the Game of Thrones, which Perissinotto also mentions. This observation coincides with some remarks, which were phrased by the acclaimed medievalist, Dame Janet Nelson in an interview in 2008. In the interview the professor with a 38 year career at King’s College in London said that she had noticed that undergraduates studying modern history generally claimed that they had been inspired by watching films and TV. “But that doesn’t so often happen with medieval history because there just isn’t so much available”, she said adding that there had been some programs and that she did not think there was “any reason why medieval history shouldn’t join in this flourishing [area]”.

quidditch-team-preparing for Ottawa-University - medieval Histories
Quidditch Team practising for Ottawa University

A few days ago (18.10.2013) the University opened its doors and so did the Medieval Studies programme with a bonanza of lectures and fun celebrating modern medievalism. Andrew Taylor, the vice dean of undergraduate studies in the faculty of arts gave a lecture on “Harry Potter, or Game of Thrones….What were the Middle Ages really like?”. In it he tried to decipher the “real Middle Ages” and tell a bit about some of the misconceptions of the era. Later parents and students were treated to a session “Telling stories from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance”. Here nationally acclaimed novelist and storyteller Marie Bilodeau, of the Kymeras Group, gave a public performance for students and parents visiting the University of Ottawa, while weaving myths and stories form the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, adapting them to a to a modern sensibility. Finally the day ended with “The Society for Creative Anachronism” which paid an extraordinary visit to the University of Ottawa Open House. A variety of medieval and renaissance Lords and peasants showed up in period attire to demonstrate fencing and teach any willing guests a few period dances.

Some might consider these activities daring in an academic context. To Ottawa University, however, this is not something new. Already some years ago the University established a Quidditch team, which plays with broomsticks and all the other paraphernalia both in the Canada Tournament and on the world stage (See video here)

Some high school students, who attended the lecture on Friday said to Neco Cuckburn “that they had already been interested in history outside the fictional series, though they acknowledged that Potter’s adventures in particular may have piqued their interest or turned it in new directions. ‘I wasn’t really interested in the whole fantasy or even medieval stuff, and then I started reading books like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter and then I was drawn to it because people who wrote the books wrote them so well that it made me interested,’ said Grace Macfarlane, a Grade 12 student at Holy Trinity Catholic School” to Neco Cockburn.



Harry Potter, Game of Thrones possibly behind surge in interest in medieval studies at uOttawa
by Neco Cockburn –

Making History: Interview with Dame Janet Nelson 2008

See video presenting the University of Ottawa Quidditch team 

Read a presentation of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program at the University of Ottawa, Canada

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