After-Action Report on James Madison University’s Replacing Wands with Quills Conference

On November 10-12, James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, hosted a diverse collection of Harry Potter scholars, including our own headmaster John Granger as the keynote speaker, and faculty members Louise Freeman, John Patrick Pazdziora, and Elizabeth Baird Hardy. It was a lovely event that bodes well for future gatherings. Follow me after the jump for my thoughts on the event. I hope my magical brethren will also chime in with their thoughts, especially on sessions I missed, since, unlike Hermione, I can’t be in two places at once.

The event was the brainchild of Elisabeth Gumnior of JMU’s school of writing, rhetoric, and technical communication. Along with symposium assistant co-ordinator Dr. Jennifer Jacovitch, Dr. Gumnior put together a brilliant and fascinating program which kicked off November 10 with a welcoming reception then kicked into high gear Friday with four different sessions.

Each session included three concurrent sessions with different a thematic focus. For example, on Friday morning, I enjoyed a Pedagogy session with a virtual presentation on the morally and pedagogically bad and good characters by Scott J. O’Callaghan at Southern Vermont College, followed by a paper on lessons in pedagogy from Hogwarts by Melissa Johnson of VCU. On Friday I also had the opportunity to attend sessions and participate in discussions with our own John Patrick Pazdziora, broadcasting live from St. Andrews with an amazing analysis of the constructs of childhood presented in Tales of Beedle the Bard; with Sarah Fettke from the University of Kansas who spoke on the definitions of human, non-human, and beast used in the Hogwarts adventures and supplemental texts; with Tess Stockslager and her insights into the meaning behind Severus Snape’s clothing choices (which made me see, for the first time, his similarity to Hawthorne’s Reverend Dimmesdale). I would have liked to have been everywhere at once to also hear presentations from undergraduate scholars, professors, and friends of this blog. (If you’d like to see the full program, check the link here, but be warned, the nargles got into my biography and presentation description).

On Friday afternoon, I presented my thoughts on using C.S. Lewis’s Experiment in Criticism to evaluate the literary merits of Rowling’s work. Alas, the time slot meant I missed out on Louise Freeman’s use of Behavioral Sciences to diagnose the Potter cast of characters. But I did get to enjoy Grace Ghazzawi’s talk on the Gothic motifs of Harry’s adventures.

We did get to all come together on Friday evening, under a gorgeous full moon, for a lovely banquet. We even had four house tables, candles, and movie music to set the tone. Then John Granger shared with us a mysterious, coded, and heretofore unknown letter found in the C.S. Lewis repository of the Wade collection (or actually in the restroom) , sent to Lewis from an unidentified colleague with the initials “AD” who shared his thoughts on what makes good literature, including insights on his favorites of Lewis’s canon and from the great works. This remarkable missive shed great light on matters of organization and theme as well as on a certain Headmaster’s preference for Little Women. This delightful evening was followed up Saturday with a final set of sessions and a great wrap-up roundtable.

Overall, the event was fantastic, with some truly wonderful insights and delightful fellowship with other scholars. It was great to see folks I have only met here (Hello, Kary, Alison, and Sarah!) , and to meet others who will be joining us here, now (welcome!). Unlike primarily fan events, this symposium had a scholarly focus, but was as whimsical and wondrous as one might expect from a series of academic presentations on a truly whimsical and wondrous work. Dr. Gumnior, who was a marvelous hostess, is hopeful the event may recur, and I can eagerly second that motion. There is also a good possibility that conference proceedings will be forthcoming. In the meantime, take our word for it that the event was a great success, and enjoy these photographs by photo-witch Jennifer Sappington. Thank you to everyone at JMU who made this event a reality!


  1. Hear, hear! (And we were much in the debt of Jenny – I didn’t take a single picture myself and until I saw the pictures I didn’t realize how much I would like some pictures despite it being an academic conference!).

    Louise’s “Harry Potter and the DSM IV: Muggle Disorders in the Wizarding World” I think was my favorite (other than John’s keynote!) though I have a hard time picking favorites because they were all so fabulous! (and so many conflicts! Still haven’t looked to see what I missed while presenting “A Librarian Looks at Madam Pince: Promoting Stereotypes, Perpetually Absent, or Plot Device?” because I knew there was no point! So glad that it looks like the proceedings will be published so I can catch the ones I missed – like your’s Elizabeth – we really did need Hermione’s time-turner!)

  2. Ditto! I would love to have conference proceedings with your Madam Pince paper, Alison! Glad to know you made it home safely!

  3. Reading your summary makes me even more sorry I had to miss it – less than 5 miles from my back door and I had a conflict! I thought retirement was supposed to allow you to slow down – I’m busier than ever…anyway, so glad to hear it was a good conference at my alma mater.

  4. Kary Phillips says

    Thanks for that wonderful summary Elizabeth. I had a fantastic time at the conference. I enjoyed the talks and met wonderful new friends! What a pleasure to have in-depth conversations about everything Potter (without the barely restrained eyerolls that I often get when I try to explain my fascination with the series). I can’t wait to read the proceedings so I can catch up on all of those interesting presentations that I missed. Elizabeth, do you think perhaps the Hogwarts professor site could host a conference/workshop/presentation calendar, where all colleges, libraries, etc. could post their Potter-related and other (e.g., Hunger Games, etc.) events? From our conversations at the symposium on Friday it sounds like there are many Potter workshops going on in different places. Since I am outside of academic circles, I don’t know how else to find out about them. Hogwarts Professor is my source of scholarly Potter info….. Thanks!

  5. Louise M. Freeman says

    Thank you for the kind words. It was a great experience for me. I went straight from JMU to a 35,poo neuroscience meeting in DC, so no time to write more now.

    FYI: Hunger Games trailer is out.

  6. Speaking of Hunger Games – anyone else read this piece at Salon where the author thinks that Katniss is more passive than Bella?

  7. Elisabeth Gumnior says

    Elizabeth, thank you for this wonderful report. And thank you gain to all the presenters and attendees who made this symposium such a success. I wish I had had the time to meet everyone personally and somehow been able to go to every panel. I am looking forward to reading all of the wonderful contributions everybody made once I begin editing the proceedings.

    I have been asked numerous times whether this might become an annual, or at least bi-annual, event. Until Saturday afternoon I would try to evade giving a clear answer; now I can say that it would be my honor and pleasure to see that WRTC and JMU host a regular HP symposium. I welcome all of your suggestions for improving what needs to be improved and enhancing what we have done well for the benefit of wider audiences and ever more substantive discussions.

    Thank you!

    Here are the links to articles in the Breeze (the JMU Student Newspaper) and the Daily News Record (the Harrisonburg daily paper).
    Get this one soon; there is a charge of $2.95 for articles older than 14 days!

    I will keep you posted on any other reports/reviews.

  8. David DePerro says

    I have to say I am bummed that I do not know how to stay on top of all the Harry Potter and similar events. I missed this one even though I live a scant two hours away and had the weekend free. Our DC HP Meetup group knew nothing about it. It sounds like it was awesome!!

  9. It does seem like we need a fandom-wide events calendar of some sort – I’d consider trying to start one myself, but I don’t pretend that I know of absolutely everything (though it sounds like I’ve managed to stay better informed than some) , but if it was set up with an email address to email event information to? hmm…

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