Harry Potter and the GW Law School

Harry Potter and the Law
Reference librarians Mary Kate Hunter and Karen Wahl put together a Harry Potter-themed exhibit in the Jacob Burns Law Library to teach students about legal issues.
Librarians at the Jacob Burns Law Library organized an exhibit using Harry Potter to explain legal issues.
December 16, 2013

Harry Potter has a thing or two to teach George Washington University students, and his lessons have more to do with tort law than magical spells.

Reference librarians Mary Kate Hunter and Karen Wahl organized a new exhibit in the Jacob Burns Law Library that uses J.K. Rowling’s acclaimed series to study legal issues. The display features books and scholarly articles that will be showcased through January.

The library sets up different exhibits throughout the year to offer students creative ways to look at law. Ms. Hunter and Ms. Wahl came up with the idea for a Harry Potter-themed exhibit after coming across a book called “Magic and the Law.” Later, they discovered “Harry Potter and the Law,” a volume filled with articles penned by legal scholars: “Sirius Black: A Case in Actual Innocence,” “Punishment in the Harry Potter Novels” and “Harry Potter Goes to Law School” are just a few of the pieces from the book.

“It’s a very popular topic, believe it or not, for people in the legal field. We were surprised at how people have taken Harry Potter stories and used them to analyze our system of law,” Ms. Hunter said.

The exhibit contains a fan-fiction novel, “James Potter and the Hall of Elders’ Crossing,” to highlight issues of copyright that the series has encountered. Other articles focus on how the plotlines in the books portray trials and the justice system.

Ms. Hunter and Ms. Wahl are no strangers to putting together unique, playful exhibits that tackle serious subject matter. In the past, they’ve used the library’s exhibition space to examine how the law plays a role in everything from movies to toys. The two librarians displayed Bratz and Barbie dolls in 2011 to explain an intellectual property lawsuit between Mattel and MGA Entertainment. 

“These exhibits are always a lot of fun, but they relate to real cases, both current and historical,” Ms. Hunter said.

 The Harry Potter exhibit has been popular with the law school community. Professor of Law W. Burlette Carter heard about how Ms. Hunter and Ms. Wahl were using the fantasy novels, and shared that she draws on examples from Harry Potter in her Trusts and Estates course. Ms. Hunter added that she’s seen students who, while rushing to their favorite study spots in the library, have slowed down to take a peek at the Harry Potter materials behind the glass cases.

Ms. Wahl said that by using Harry Potter, students are able to make connections to the material they’re learning in class.

“When I was in law school, I sometimes couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think displays like this help take you out of your tort law class or your evidence class, and they make you go, ‘Oh, that’s right—I’m studying this because there’s so much you can do with law,’” Ms. Wahl said.