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Estelle and Melvin Gelman LibraryEckles Library at the Mount Vernon CampusVirginia Science and Technology Campus Library

How to Have a Magical Research Experience

Researching PotterDid you read in the GW Hatchet article about the Researching Potter workshop and wish you had attended?  Read below for some information from librarian Tolonda Henderson about Harry Potter Studies and her tips for getting started researching popular culture.

One of the most basic ways we organize books is by fiction and non-fiction. My detective novels and sci-fi fantasy books live across my apartment from my textbooks from college and graduate school. The few pieces of fiction I have mixed in with the academic books are what most people would call Literature (with a capital L), and beloved books from childhood are kept in an entirely different room. The clarity of these distinctions, however, is slowly being turned on its head for me as I find myself wading deeper and deeper into the world of Harry Potter Studies.
I’ll take a moment to let that sink in.

Yes, I said Harry Potter Studies. On my desk here at work sit seven books for which the New York Times Book Review created a children’s best seller list. I keep the series within arm’s reach so I can refer to them as I research, for example, what the magical properties of photographs and portraits can tell us about our screen-oriented contemporary visual culture. This past February I gave a paper on the library at Hogwarts at a conference with a Harry Potter Studies Section. Next month, I will be giving a paper at the Harry Potter Conference at Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia It is entirely likely that my first scholarly publication will be about the world inhabited by The Boy Who Lived.

Would you like to add some Hogwarts to your academic experience?  Here are some tips.

  • Use multiple keywords when searching the catalog. If you just search for Harry Potter, you will get screen after screen of the Consortium’s holdings of the actual books and movies. Searching for “harry potter AND international relations” or “harry potter AND psychology” will return a much more focused list of results.
  • When searching a specialized database such as MLA International Bibliography, DO NOT limit your results to full text. Doing so would prevent you from learning about chapters in edited volumes. There are many such edited volumes on Harry Potter, but there are also individual chapters in volumes on other topics.
  • Pay attention to the date of publication. Scholars started writing about Harry Potter before the series was complete; depending on your topic, this can make a big difference. Articles or book chapters about Hogwarts as a school will be very different if they were written before the introduction of Dolores Umbridge in Order of the Phoenix than if they were written afterwards.

Please feel free to contact me directly. I am considering branching out in Popular Culture Studies to projects on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Hunger Games, or the Divergent series. I would be happy to talk to you about any of my projects or, more importantly, about yours.

Tolonda Henderson
Instruction and Reference Librarian
Gelman Library

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