Chestnut Hill College Harry Potter Conference 2016: A Pictorial Report

by Emily Strand (@ekcstrand)

Chestnut Hill College's St. Joseph Hall

Chestnut Hill College’s St. Joseph Hall

The fifth annual Chestnut Hill College Harry Potter Conference on Friday, October 21 in quaint Chestnut Hill, PA was yet another rousing success. As conference organizer Patrick McCauley noted in closing remarks, although we’re the furthest away in time from the release of the final Potter book, this year’s conference was the most well-attended yet, with 500 tickets sold. Look, serious readers of Harry Potter, if you haven’t had a chance to attend this thing, take the matter into hand and make your plans for next year (confirmed for Friday, Oct. 20, 2017; paper submissions will be accepted beginning July or August). This is the hub for serious readers of Potter, and it’s an event not to be missed.

This year was my second attending and presenting at the conference.

Emily Strand bringing the Star Wars to a Harry Potter conference

Emily Strand bringing the Star Wars to a Harry Potter conference

Last year I talked about my Quidditch paper, which appeared in Harry Potter for Nerds II. This year I spoke about the common sources, themes and trajectories between the Harry Potter books and the Star Wars franchise. (I’ll write that up in post-form as we get closer to the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.) For now I’ll just say I borrowed one of my friend Arthur Harrow’s many puns to open my talk, welcoming everyone to “HogWars”. (Cough.)

I, of course, took many pictures, which I post here for your enjoyment. I also live Tweeted the event (@ekcstrand). However, John tells me that we’d have much better photographic evidence of CHCHPC2016 if Toni Gras had been in attendance this year, with her camera and her husband David. We want to give a shout-out to Toni and David with our wishes for Toni’s good health and a return to the conference in 2017.

Emily Strand, Katherine Sas and Katy McDaniel (3 Potter nerds)

Emily Strand, Katherine Sas and Katy McDaniel (3 Potter nerds)

For me, the best part of the conference is getting to be with good friends and associates usually relegated to the digital realm of my life due to distance. Connecting with For Nerds II editor Katy McDaniel and essayist and Mythgardian Katherine Sas was easily my favorite part of the day. And both years I’ve come away with intriguing new friends, like Umbridge apologist Patrick Ross (last year) and Laurie Beckoff, who gave an excellent talk this year, based on her senior thesis. Then there was the young professor named John who came to the conference all the way from Las Vegas, and both thrilled and

Laurie Beckoff on Harry Potter and Le Morte D'Arthur

Laurie Beckoff on Harry Potter and Le Morte D’Arthur

humbled me by saying he uses my Quidditch essay in his undergraduate course on Potter. I met several families with school-age children, enjoying the conference together. And there are always a handful of cosplayers (like Nick and Grace who inspire me) for whom Potter is well more than a dress-up opportunity.

But if fascinating people are not enough to convince you to start stalking airfares to Philly for next year, let’s talk about the meat of the conference. Organizers Karen Wendling and Patrick McCauley opened the conference with some brief

Professor Granger, teaching us how we read Potter in rings

Professor Granger, teaching us how we read Potter in rings

remarks, and then 21 concurrent scholarly presentations began for the conference’s first session. Session topics ranged from John’s Seven Keys to Harry Potter, to Campbellian Hero’s Journey motifs in HP, to sexual imagery in Chamber of Secrets, to child abuse in HP, to an examination of the use of “Hedwig’s Theme” in the films, to the narrative mirroring of Quidditch in each of the books (Strand theory; Granger corollary… woot!). Truly, attendees were spoiled for choice.

Then Italian social scientist Loris Vezzali, whose ground-breaking work shows how Potter helps break down stereotypes and prejudice in young readers, gave a fascinating plenary lecture. Lunch and book signings by authors like Jack Gierzynski, John Granger and Lorrie Kim, accompanied by a Potter-inspired choral concert by CHC students (a lovely treat we didn’t experience last year), followed.

Chestnut Hill College Choir, serenading us with Potter-inspired music

Chestnut Hill College Choir, serenading us with Potter-inspired music

After lunch, Keith Hawk, John, Louise and I interviewed Snape: A Definitive Reading author Lorrie Kim for Episode 52 of Mugglenet Academia. Kim has loads of wonderful insights into that most complicated character in Potterverse; her book is a rich look at the series from Snape’s point of view. Much fun was had by all, especially by me when I ran around taking audience questions with the microphone, much like Phil Donahue. (It’s a glamorous life I lead. Obviously.)

While we did, 25 concurrent sessions took place all over CHC’s St. Joseph Hall. Once again, it was difficult to choose among the many scholarly topics, which ranged from the glorification of motherhood in HP, to Pottermore and issues of canon, to Hogwarts’ architecture, to a

Louise Freeman on the pro-social effects of reading fiction, especially Potter

Louise Freeman on the pro-social effects of reading fiction, especially Potter

critical race theory study of hierarchies in HP, to debate on Cursed Child, to PTSD in Potter, to Louise’s excellent talk on the pro-social effects of Rowling’s fiction.

For me the most stimulating part of the day came last, when political science professor Anthony “Jack” Gierzynski gave the final plenary lecture of the day. Like Professor Vezzali, Gierzynski has conducted extensive surveys to attempt to draw conclusions about the impact of reading Harry Potter on the politics of the millennial generation. Particularly in the heat of this unusually gross election cycle,

Prof. Anthony "Jack" Gierzynski giving the second plenary lecture of the day

Prof. Anthony “Jack” Gierzynski giving the second plenary lecture of the day

Professor Gierzynski’s talk delighted and inspired the large crowd gathered. The talk was entitled, “Do fictional stories really can make us more tolerant and accepting?” His unsurprising (to serious readers) but still very engaging, and not unqualified answer was: yes.

The conference closed with remarks from Chestnut Hill College’s

Sr. Carol Jean Vale, president of Chestnut Hill College

Sr. Carol Jean Vale, president of Chestnut Hill College

president Sr. Carol Jean Vale, Ph.D. calling for Harry Potter as a write-in candidate for president. Which made everyone laugh and cheer in the moment, and later say to each other, “wait, has she read the books? Hermione is far more presidential.”

Dear friends, this is all to say: won’t you join us next year? The only thing missing at the conference was you. Oh, and air conditioning. For some reason, we needed it that day.

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