Southwest Popular/American Culture (SWPACA): The Harry Potter Program

There are two Harry Potter conferences for serious readers that Potter Pundits are obliged to be aware of and to attend at least once. The one you may know already — maybe we met there? — is the ‘Harry Potter Academic Conference’ thrown annually at Chestnut Hill College. It is three days of solid presentations, keynote and short talks, from fans of all ages, academics, and independent scholars. Other Potter festivals with serious reader components, I think immediately of those in Roanoke and Staunton, Virginia, are excellent but, at least at present, lack Chestnut Hill’s history, depth, and breadth.

The second Potter annual meeting every Potter Pundit should know about is the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association (SWPACA) conference held every February in Albuquerque, NM. This year the gathering is 20-23 February, Wednesday to Saturday, in the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Conference Center. You can register for it at reduced rates at this SWPACA webpage if you sign on before 5 January.

Before you do, though, you need to know that SWPACA is nothing like Chestnut Hill (or Staunton or Roanoke) excepting, of course, that if you go you will hear “professional academics” talk about the Hogwarts Saga. Here, after the jump, are the seven differences you should be aware of and a list of the talks you can hear if you do go. Enjoy!

The Seven Differences Between SWPACA and Chestnut Hill College’s Harry Potter Conference

  1. SWPACA is a Popular/American Culture conference of which the Harry Potter talks are only one program among many. Check out the tentative schedule of SWPACA programs, all of them, at this link. The Harry Potter programing that Chris Bell puts together is remarkable — but it is a very small fraction of what SWPACA is about. If you don’t care for a Potter program offering or you just want a break, believe me, there is no shortage of fascinating subjects being explored in the many venues and programs at SWPACA. But the Potter thread is an island rather than the whole shebang.
  2. There are no Featured Speakers or Keynotes. Except for one panel discussion on ‘The Future of Potter Scholarship’ — with Chestnut Hill’s organizers, Patrick McCauley and Karen Wendling! — no one speaks for more than their hour divided by the number of speakers allotted to that topic. The Potter program at SWPACA doesn’t have a budget to fly anyone in or pay speaker stipends, so that is just not something you’ll find there.
  3. Speakers Reading Papers. Every person in the ‘Harry Potter Studies’ modules I went to at SWPACA 2018 read papers to their audience. This is the way that responsible speakers insure that they are speaking within the time restraints given. True confessions time: I did not speak from a paper in my SWPACA supposed-to-be-20-minute talk and I embarrassed myself (and everyone else in the room) by running long, Gilderoy-style. So I get the reason speakers read canned talks. Boy, do I! But, wow, can it get boring to sit and listen to speakers read aloud. Lauren Camacci should film a short video on how to read a paper with verve for audience engagement that Chris Bell can send to all prospective speakers. It helps, of course, if your talks are as good as Camacci’s. [On reflection, this point about SWPACA is not a difference but a point of similarity it has with all other conferences at which brief, canned talks predominate. Alas!]
  4. Academics Reading Papers. Everyone speaking at SWPACA is a professor or a graduate student who wants to become a professor. There are no fans, no high school students, no one really whose academic institution is not paying for registration, travel, and room and board in Albuquerque. Enough said. Journalist love to print the titles of pointy-head talks by academics at Potter conferences because they are, as often as not, beyond satire. SWPACA’s talks with few exceptions conform to type and caste.
  5. There is no Potter Festival attached to the SWPACA Conference. I’m not a big fan of Quidditch tournaments, vendor displays in the streets, and towns made up to be Hogsmeade or Hogwarts, not to mention Wizard Rock and the usual fandom celebrities to be found at conferences catering to a younger and more film-oriented set. But there is something to be said for the Roanoke, Staunton, and other serious reader conferences, which like Chestnut Hill, have these extras. It creates a fun atmosphere that lightens the cerebral nature while fostering the focus. You’re all in for Harry Potter at these conferences, not so much in Albuquerque. Though that SWPACA Craft Beer Walk on Saturday is a wow.
  6. There is Conference Overlap and Singularity. Many of the same speakers at SWPACA have spoken at Chestnut Hill and vice-versa. If you liked Chris Bell’s keynote talk at last year’s Chestnut Hill conference or if you missed it because you couldn’t travel to Philadelphia in October, you can catch it again or for the first time at SWPACA. Ditto with Karen Wendling and Patrick McCauley’s talks. Some of my favorite Pundits, though, e.g., Melissa Aaron, only appear at SWPACA and there are host of others that, in my quick survey, have not yet come to Chestnut Hill or other East Coast conferences. 
  7. It’s Just Wizarding World: Harry Potter, Cursed Child, and the Fantastic Beasts films. No Cormoran Strike, no similar series, nada. That Rowling is writing a parallel commentary on Harry Potter within her Cormoran Strike novels? I suppose you could talk about that (Chris Bell is no Savanarola — check out that ‘Why Salazar Slytherin Was Correct’ talk below), but you won’t find anything on Robert Galbraith’s books at this year’s conference. Or Hunger GamesTwilight, or literary allusion, for that matter.

And — You Can Read the SWPACA Potter Paper Titles Before You Register. Here at last are the eleven modules of Harry Potter programming at SWPACA 2019 from the draft conference schedule:

1034 Harry Potter Studies 1: Potter Talk Wed, 02/20/2019 – 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm, Enchantment E

Moderator: Lauren Camacci

  • Merlin’s Pants! Lauren Camacci, Penn State University
  • “J.K. Rowling. Our Literary Celebrity”: Fan Culture and the Literary Celebrity as a Cultural Icon Caroline Powers, Graduate Student – University of North Carolina Wilmington

1062 Harry Potter Studies 2: Existential Potter Wed, 02/20/2019 – 2:15 pm – 3:45 pm, Enchantment E

Moderator: Tracy Bealer

  • The Greatest Trick Ollivander Ever Pulled: Wandlore and Magical Capitalism in Harry Potter Tracy Bealer, Borough of Manhattan Community College
  • Wizard Interactions with Portraits: A Glimpse into Future Relationships between Muggles and AI Brian Bernard, Schreiner University
  • What is a Hero? An Analysis of Legacy Symbolism in Harry Potter Marley Stueverwilliford,

1090 Harry Potter Studies 3: Potter and Identity Wed, 02/20/2019 – 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm, Enchantment E

Moderator: Christopher Bell

  • Object or Agent? Authentic Female Character and Identity in Harry Potter Patrick McCauley, Chestnut Hill College
  • Homosocial Bonds in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” Crystal Sosa,
  • “You Have Your Mother’s Eyes”: Biracial Identity Development in Harry Potter Christopher Bell, University of Colorado Colorado Springs

2022 Harry Potter Studies 4: The Future of Harry Potter Studies Thu, 02/21/2019 – 9:00 am – 10:30 am, Enchantment E

Moderator: Karen Wendling

This panel discussion analyzes the current state of Harry Potter studies, looking for trends that may continue into the future. At this conference as well as the Harry Potter Academic Conference at Chestnut Hill College (Philadelphia, PA), Harry Potter scholarship generally falls into three categories: textual analyses, studies that relate Harry Potter to a specific discipline, and the use of Rowling’s novels as tools in the pursuit of personal meaning and ethics. Which of these veins of scholarship will continue well into the future? Is it worthwhile to expand Harry Potter studies to include Rowling’s works outside of her Wizarding World universe? Where should we, as Harry Potter academics, focus our research? Additional participants: Patrick McCauley & Christopher Bell

2056 Harry Potter Studies 5: The Truth about Potter Thu, 02/21/2019 – 10:45 am – 12:15 pm, Enchantment E

Moderator: Christine Klingbiel

  • Ministry of Misinformation: Harry Potter and Propaganda Christine Klingbiel,
  • “Do You Really Think This Is about Truth or Lies?”: Paradoxes of Honesty in the Harry Potter Series Beth Sutton-Ramspeck, The Ohio State University at Lima

2108 Harry Potter Studies 6: Fantastic Screenings and Where to Find Them Thu, 02/21/2019 – 2:15 pm – 5:30 pm, Enchantment E

Moderator: Christopher Bell

With the recent release of the second volume of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, please join the scholars of the Harry Potter Studies division as we watch and deconstruct the film in our annual lively screening and discussion! Every year, this proves to be one of the highlights of the conference!

3018 Harry Potter 7: Heroes and Horcruxes Fri, 02/22/2019 – 9:00 am – 10:30 am, Enchantment E

Moderator: Liselle Milazzo

  • Myth, Magic, and Tourism: A Structural Analysis of Harry Potter and “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” Liselle Milazzo, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • Dumbledore’s Magic: A Survey of the Educational Leadership of Hogwarts’ Headmaster Addison Lucchi, MidAmerica Nazarene University
  • “Hallows not Horcruxes”: What Does it Mean to be the “Master of Death?” Jocelyne Paulhus, University of Regina

3052 Harry Potter Studies 8: Potter’s Magical Folk Fri, 02/22/2019 – 10:45 am – 12:15 pm, Enchantment E

Moderator: Melissa Aaron

  • Harry Potter and the Ill-Begotten Celebratory Sandwich: Misguided Activism in S.P.E.W. Alyssa Lowery,
  • The Holy Half-Giant: Hagrid as the Virgin Mary in the Harry Potter Series Austin Jenkins,
  • “It’s Just Lucky I Put Mr. Tibbles on The Case”: The Spy Cats of Harry Potter Melissa Aaron, California Polytechnic State University-Pomona

3104 Harry Potter Studies 9: Conscious Potter Fri, 02/22/2019 – 2:15 pm – 3:45 pm, Enchantment E

Moderator: Alicia Skipper

  • Dumbledore’s Army: Leadership in Resistance and Authenticity Brent Satterly, Widener University
  • Mud****** Need Not Apply: Why Salazar Slytherin Was Correct in Wanting to Deny Admission to Muggle-Born Wizards and the Implications for Critical Consciousness Matthew Sterner-Neely, University of South Carolina
  • For the Greater Good: Conformity, Obedience, and the Performance of Evil in the Wizarding World Alicia Skipper, Bakersfield College Kate Fulton, San Juan College

3142 Harry Potter Studies 10: Potter’s Readers Fri, 02/22/2019 – 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm, Enchantment E

Moderator: Mariya Vaughan

  • The Wizarding World of Fandom: How Harry Potter Fan Fiction Shapes Identities Shyanna Sloan,
  • A Harry Potter Generation: An Analysis of the Millennial Generation and the Effects of the Harry Potter Book Series  Hayleigh Steadman,
  • Becoming Dumbledore’s Army: Academic and Social Engagement in Living-Learning Communities   Mariya Vaughan, Kansas State University 

4012 Harry Potter Studies 11: Potter and Mental Health Sat, 02/23/2019 – 9:00 am – 10:30 am, Enchantment E

Moderator: Sarah Leblanc

  • Harry Potter and the Unlikeable Child: Trauma, Attachment Disorders, and Resilience in the Harry Potter Series Jordana Long, Kodiak College
  • “Is This Real?”: A Wizarding World Approach to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Sarah Leblanc, Purdue University Fort Wayne
  • Memory, Dreams, and the Presence of the Past: Harry Potter and Post-Traumatic Stress William Thompson,

I hope that helps with your decision making! Let me know what you think by clicking on the ‘Leave a Comment’ tab up by the post headline.




  1. Melissa D Aaron (Moonyprof) says

    That’s incredibly helpful, John! I went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child last night, and I was just wondering about hotel and air arrangements. My own school only has a limited budget for travel, with a definite ceiling.

    If I had any other tips, it would be that sometimes Chris Bell puts together an edited collection from the papers. There’s no guarantee. You have to submit again, and that paper had better have all the is dotted and the ts crossed in terms of format and documentation, but it’s a good thing to know.

    And save your pennies, because there are publishers who have tables out with some pretty tempting titles, many on Harry Potter.

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