In June 1997, J.K. Rowling made one of the most significant impacts in pop culture history. “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was published in the United Kingdom (and in the United States in September 1998 as “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”). Now, two decades later, fans have made what became a seven-book series into a global phenomenon, buying hundreds of millions of books, visiting theme parks and purchasing merchandise, and breaking box-office records attending the nine Warner Brothers films based on the books, including a spinoff series that launched last November with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” In honor of the 20th anniversary of the publication of “Philosopher’s Stone,” the College of Communication hosted the Harry Potter and the Pop Culture Conference on May 6.
This is the fifth year of the popular conference, conceived and orchestrated by Associate Professor Paul Booth. Booth said he never imagined that the conference would grow to what it is today. In 2012, Booth was having a conversation with his then-student Spencer Flynn (CMN ’14), when Flynn asked him if he was planning on holding an event at DePaul to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Doctor Who.” “I thought that was a pretty cool idea,” says Booth. “I could do a talk or invite some people to do a panel. It just kind of snowballed from there.”
Since the conference on “Doctor Who” in 2013, subsequent conferences have been themed on Joss Whedon (creator of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” television series), “Supernatural” and “Star Trek.” An estimated 275 fans attended this year’s Harry Potter event, making it the first year that the conference series has sold out of tickets. “Harry Potter got kids reading. It got grown-ups reading, too. It really did inspire people,” says Booth. “I’m not surprised that Harry Potter caused such popularity for the conference.”
Fans spent the day attending academic panels on a variety of topics in the Harry Potter universe, including religion, the occult, whitewashing, queer readings, education, activism and social change. Christopher Bell, associate professor of communication at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, delivered his keynote speech, “Defending Tom Riddle: The Failure of Albus Dumbledore.” Alanna Bennet, an entertainment writer for Buzzfeed, gave a second keynote address about race-bending Hermione Granger and the future of the Harry Potter franchise.
Like previous years, the conference also included a charity fundraiser. An estimated $1,850 was raised for the Harry Potter Alliance, an organization that engages fans to advance equality, human rights, social justice and literacy. “They promote things that DePaul very strongly believes in. They’re a very Vincentian organization,” says Booth.
When asked to which Hogwarts house St. Vincent de Paul would belong, Booth said, “Without a doubt, St. Vincent would be a Hufflepuff. Loyal, caring, honest. I think the Hufflepuffs, almost more than any other house, represent the best of Hogwarts and the best of the world. We could all do a lot worse than try to be Hufflepuffs in our lives.”