Students in two Central Michigan University courses traded in their bathing suits and sunscreen for a spring break filled with witchcraft and wizardry. These thirty-three students spent spring break learning all about Harry Potter on a 10-day adventure across the United Kingdom.
CMU Associate Professor Joseph Michael Sommers designed the two courses – one English literature course and an Honors Program course – with the intention of immersing students in the living, breathing history of Harry Potter.
"For me, for these courses, I tried to see the literature less from the books and more from the places from which the books derived," Sommers said. "The books being the artifacts of these magical locales. For example, it is one thing to read about The Hogwarts Express arriving at Platform 9 3/4, it's another thing to visit Platform 9 3/4."
The trip began in Edinburgh, Scotland, with a bus trip to Durham, Gloucester, Oxford, Watford, London, and Cambridge. Some of the experiences they had along the way included:
- Eating at The Elephant House Café, where Rowling allegedly started the Harry Potter books;
- Visiting key locations in the books and movies such as Edinburgh Castle, Greyfriars Kirkyard, Durham Cathedral and Castle, Gloucester Cathedral, Oxford's Bodleian Library and Christ's Church, the Tower of London, the London Zoo among dozens of other Harry Potter-related destinations;
- Stopping in at Platform 9 3/4 in King's Cross Station;
- Exploring sites in London's Zone 1 associated with Harry Potter; and
- Experiencing "The Making of Harry Potter" at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Watford.
"Most of the trip built up to Thursday's visit to the Harry Potter Studios," said CMU senior Taylor DesOrmeau of Novi. "After watching a brief introduction in a theater, the screen went up and behind it was the door to the Great Hall of Hogwarts. We walked through the door and there were five or six people from our class already in tears. It was a great moment."
Sommers believes CMU may be the only school to teach Harry Potter in this format.
"Any university can – and likely does – teach Harry Potter, but not many places do it like this," Sommers said. "We did our best to re-examine Harry Potter, as a cultural phenomenon, the way the British experience it instead of simply reading and cutting into the text."
Sommers says his biggest challenge might be keeping his students engaged through the end of the semester after such an expansive adventure.
"This trip exceeded everything we set out to accomplish in the entire semester. I'm so proud of all my students, they are the real magic of these courses," Sommers said. "I may have completely taught myself out of the classroom, but that's not a bad thing."