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CMU students transported to the wizarding world

Class connects English literature curriculum to British landmarks

Contact: Dan Digmann

​A recent Central Michigan University class experience may be as close to receiving a letter from Hogwarts as any muggle can get. The group of 21 students and two interpreters as part of a Harry Potter course ended their spring semester with a two-week adventure of history and wizardry across the United Kingdom.

The trip is part of an English honors course developed by CMU Associate Professor Joseph Michael Sommers ​ that immerses students in the living, breathing history surrounding the creation of the Harry Potter series. The students spent the semester examining Harry Potter in the classroom, then supplemented that knowledge with visits to numerous destinations related to the popular series.​

​"Between the class and the trip, I was able to look at elements of the series through a more evaluative and analytical lens, which some people believe cannot be done with fiction."

CMU senior Kaitlin Shanks​​​

The trip began in Edinburgh, Scotland, with a coach trip to Durham, Northumberland, York, Oxford, Gloucester and London. Some of the experiences they had along the way included:View the photo gallery

  • ​​Visiting The Elephant House Café and the remains of Nicolson's Cafe, where Rowling allegedly started the Harry Potter books;
  • Stopping at key Harry Potter-related destinations in the books and movies such as the Edinburgh Castle, Alnwick Castle, Greyfriars Kirkyard, Durham Cathedral and Castle, Gloucester Cathedral, Oxford's Bodleian Library and Christ's Church, the Tower of London, and the London Zoo, among many others;
  • Stepping aboard Platform 9 3/4 in King's Cross Station; and
  • Experiencing "The Making of Harry Potter" at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Watford.

"I've read the books and seen the movies many times, but getting to talk about it in a class setting, and then see all of the different places of inspiration and some of the work that went into the series gave it so much more meaning for me," said CMU senior Kaitlin Shanks of Cheboygan. "Between the class and the trip, I was able to look at elements of the series through a more evaluative and analytical lens, which some people believe cannot be done with fiction."​

In the first two iterations of the course, the students traveled during spring break. Sommers believes an extended timeframe and trip later in the year afforded them many more opportunities to learn.

"We were able to experience a whole bunch of new things and visit a greater scope of inspirational settings: filming locations, castles, cathedrals, palaces, gardens and minsters that inspired the Potter narratives. It was absolutely brilliant," he said.

For CMU junior Delany Lemke of Marysville, the course provided her with a long-awaited letter to Hogwarts. Read more about Lemke's experience – as well as some of her classmates – below.

Delany Lemke

Marysville junior
English literature, language and writing major

“This trip was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I grew up on the Harry Potter series. I must have read the first book when I was in fourth grade, and I remember anxiously waiting for the final book to release in the local bookstore. I went to see all the movies, and I, like many others, had daydreams about getting a letter to Hogwarts. Well, now, as a 20-year-old college student, the letter finally came. It was my first time rereading the series since I was little, and now I did so with a sharper academic eye. It felt like being a kid again, but at the same time, the books meant something more. I thought about the way that J.K. Rowling's world of witchcraft and wizardry shaped me into a more imaginative and more accepting human. I think many children learned that difference not only is not a bad thing, but that difference can be magical. This series truly shaped a generation, and it was a wonderful opportunity to be able to study it so closely.

“As for the trip, where could I begin? I was practically walking through Hogwarts. Everywhere I went I could see the little pieces of the wizarding world I grew up with. Things like narrow alleys filled with fun shops and great halls with long tables – the sights were incredible. I saw places I had only seen in movies, I walked in graveyards that were hundreds of years old, I stood in cathedrals that took decades if not centuries to build, and I saw castles and palaces for the first time in my life. I think I learned more about the history of the United Kingdom than I had ever learned in my schooling. It was so much fun to find my way in a new country. I had only been to Canada before, so every little window and brick in the castles had me awestruck. I am dying to travel even more.” 

Kaitlin Shanks

Cheboygan senior
Music education major

“I had a really great experience with this class and with the trip. This was my only real chance to study abroad while at CMU, so being able to visit different countries while studying a book series that meant a lot to me growing up was an experience that I will never forget. We got to see many of the cities and buildings that helped inspire and acted as some of the settings for Hogwarts, while also learning about their history that far predates Harry Potter. I had so many experiences on the trip that have unquestionably changed my perspective of fiction, history and even my global perspective. I am so thankful that I had this opportunity through CMU and the Honors Program, and I will never regret my study abroad experience.”

Mariah Schepak

Howell junior
Early childhood development and learning major

“This class was a once in a lifetime experience and an amazing one at that. I learned so much about the history of the U.K., the history of many historic landmarks and about what happened behind the scenes of the Harry Potter films while I walked through some of the filming sights. Some of the highlights of the trip were climbing Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, visiting Durham Cathedral and Castle, exploring York Minster, walking through The Shambles in York, taking a Bodleian Library tour in Oxford, seeing the Bodleian Treasures in Oxford, and having the chance to explore the streets of London, see Big Ben, explore the Tower of London, see a play at the Globe Theater and take a self-guided tour of Westminster Abbey.”


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