‘The Politics of Harry Potter’: New One-Unit Weekend Course at SDSU

Kimberly Twist

Kimberly Twist, assistant professor in political science at SDSU

When reading any book in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, ever notice the themes of power and accountability in democratic and authoritarian regimes, the dynamics of group entities, and the appeal of populism? Kimberly Twist did, and created a course around it. The assistant professor in political science at San Diego State University will teach her One-Unit Weekend course, The Politics of Harry Potter, on Friday, Oct. 6 and Saturday, Oct. 14.

One-Unit Weekend courses allow undergraduate students to earn extra units for graduation while also learning about the latest developments on important current issues. Offered through the College of Extended Studies, each course typically meets two or three times for a total of 15 classroom hours.

Course topics are so intriguing that community members often take advantage of the fact that they’re open to the public. Twist answered a few questions about her course and her career.

Please give us a brief history of your education and career.
I did my undergraduate work at New York University, where I intended to be a journalism major. Journalism required us to have a double major, so I applied to the international relations major as a freshman. While studying abroad at NYU London, I took courses on the EU and British politics, both of which I found absolutely fascinating. That semester sparked my interest in doing political science research, so I applied to a master’s program at NYU in European politics.

I graduated with my M.A. the year after I finished my undergrad, and then started working in publishing, as a wedding planner — anything I thought I might want to do! I missed the intellectual challenges of academic research, however, and applied to political science Ph.D. programs. I completed my Ph.D. at UC Berkeley, and I joined the faculty at SDSU last semester.

When did you first become politically aware?
I remember snippets of politics from my childhood, and very clearly remember my school having an “election” in 1996, for which I spent time reading up on the candidates. My freshman year at NYU began in September 2001, so politics quickly became a huge part of my daily life.

How did you come to be a One-Unit Weekend instructor?
The idea of a Harry Potter class was one I’d mentally tossed around for awhile, but didn’t think it would ever end up as a political science mainstay — making it perfect for a OUW course! I pitched it to my chair, and then everything came together fairly quickly.

How far into Harry Potter were you before you realized it would be a fitting lens through which to view politics?
I first read the series as a grad student, so the parallels to both American and British history were fairly top-of-mind for me.

Can you give an example?
Leaders saying they’re able to fix what’s wrong, and voters feeling the establishment isn’t listening to them, is something we’ve seen again and again throughout history. When Voldemort promises wizards a better future, we can appreciate how appealing some would find that vision. Populism is simple to understand, but difficult to work against. It’s an incredibly powerful force.

Who should take this course?
Anyone who appreciates Harry Potter — having read the series isn’t a requirement to take the class, but it certainly will make things less confusing!

Congratulations on your many teaching awards: Outstanding Teaching, UC Irvine; Commendation for Excellence in Teaching, Travers Department of Political Science, UC Berkeley; and Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award, UC Berkeley. To what do you attribute your passion for teaching?
I’ve always been a curious person, and love to learn not just the “what,” but also the “how” and the “why.” I love sharing things I’ve learned with others, particularly when it’s something about which I’m passionate.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
A sportscaster, but specifically one who would get to do interviews from Olympic Village.

Learn more about One-Unit Weekend courses at neverstoplearning.net/oneunit.