During college, students can expect to take courses in history and biology – but what about Harry Potter? CMU English faculty member Dr. Joseph Michael Sommers created and taught a popular study abroad course dedicated to academic study of the boy wizard and his creator, J.K. Rowling.
“I was actually painting my house a few summers back, and I was just standing there, up on a ladder, and it just kind of popped into my head that, if I’m going to teach Harry Potter, why would I do it here if I could do it in the United Kingdom? The notion of taking the ideas, the concepts, the precepts within the books and movies, and bringing them to life for students by taking them to the inspiration locations just seemed like a naturally great idea,” he said.
During the course, which Sommers has taught three times, students study the themes and concepts presented in the Harry Potter books and films, then fly to the United Kingdom for a 10-day whirlwind tour of all things Potter.
Not only is the course academically rigorous, said Sommers, but physically demanding as well.
“We pound some serious pavement and go out and really explore the United Kingdom. We start in Edinburgh, and we end up in the south of London, sometimes Wales. That’s the entirety of the island. And realistically speaking, except for traveling city to city, we do all of it on our feet.”
The students, faculty and support from CHSBS and the Honors Program at CMU are a big reason that he gets to create such fantastic courses, said Sommers, and he’s endlessly grateful to CMU for the opportunities it provides him and his students.
“We’ve got a good, solid, happy community here at Central. We have students that really care about each other. That matters. Passionate students, dedicated to their study, students that are determined to do well. My students are very poised to succeed, and yet – they’re incredibly fun. You can be a hard worker and still have a good time, and they’re not afraid to do that. The students make me want to be here and make me want to create these things for them.”
Sommers is currently working on three separate book projects about author Neil Gaiman, which he hopes to turn into another study abroad course.
One of his favorite courses to teach currently is Popular Culture in America.
Sommers also has designed and taught courses on fantasy, comic books and children’s literature.