“Potterversity” Episode 30: “Calling In from the Harry Potter Academic Conference”
Join us as we reflect on the 2022 version of one of our favorite annual events, the Harry Potter Academic Conference at Chestnut Hill College.
Katy and Emily talk with attendees and presenters from the 11th annual HPAC: Laurie Beckoff, Lauren Camacci, Louise Freeman, and Lana Whited. The conference was held entirely in person until 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated moving the conference online. In 2021, the organizers decided to try a hybrid approach, which continued this year. We discuss the benefits and drawbacks of that style, which allows presenters and attendees to join from all over the world and enables active discussion during presentations but can bring technical difficulties and make it difficult to engage with people attending in a different manner.
As usual, this year’s conference offered a huge variety of subjects, spanning literature, psychology, religion, education, and more. The first part of our chat focuses on some of our favorite talks. Lana, who usually connects intellectually with papers, felt emotionally stimulated by some of the presentations. Plenary speaker Loretta Ross, a recent recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant, spoke on “Calling In, Not Calling Out” as a revolutionary strategy to discuss human rights issues. In the wake of J.K. Rowling’s comments about transgender people, fans and scholars have struggled with how to broach this topic. We consider Loretta’s suggested approaches and social media as a platform for serious and sensitive discussions.
John Anthony Dunne and conference organizer Patrick McCauley both examined death, an ever-present topic in Potter scholarship, while David Martin considered secrets, lies, and deception. Such weighty topics were balanced out by more lighthearted papers. Caitlin Harper, a regular presenter on (and defender of) Quidditch, this year talked about how the sport makes exactly as much sense as it needs to, comparing it to real-world sports that have odd or complicated rules. Laurie shared literary antecedents for Peeves and analyzed his overlooked role as a prankster in the series.
Other character studies included Beth Sutton-Ramspeck’s examination of Ron’s transformation into Reg Cattermole, bringing a minor character to the forefront and analyzing his position in wizarding society and Ron’s experience of literally putting himself in someone else’s shoes. Mark-Anthony Lewis looked at Snape alongside Victor Frankenstein in their relationship to techne, which encompasses art, science, and ethics. Katy, inspired by our episode on Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, looked at mirrors in the new film and how the various Dumbledores interact with them.
Stay tuned for part two, in which we will discuss current themes in Potter scholarship, the conference’s special section on J.K. Rowling and the transgender community, and why we keep coming back to Chestnut Hill year after year.