Behind the scenes of Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition at the British Library

The Pottermore News Team

The entrance to the British Library's exhibition Harry Potter: A History of Magic
The entrance to the British Library's exhibition Harry Potter: A History of Magic.

It’s time to have our first peek inside the British Library’s Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition. Here’s what we discovered upon our visit.

The exhibition opens on 20 October. Before the big day, Pottermore had a poke around to see what is in store.

Put together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the exhibition celebrates not only Harry Potter but also the ‘real-life’ magic that is woven into our own Muggle history, too. Boasting more than 100 artefacts, the exhibition features a blend of contributions from the British Library centred around ancient magic. On the Potter side of things, the likes of Bloomsbury and J.K. Rowling herself have also contributed items, all set out in different rooms themed around Hogwarts classes, from Herbology to Defence Against the Dark Arts.

In the Astronomy room sits a magnificent Celestial Globe, which was used to study constellations and stars in ancient times. As many Harry Potter characters share their names with constellations, the globe is a rather apt addition. Joanna Norledge, one of the library’s curators, explained how visitors can navigate the globe with a touch-screen and explore it in detail.

‘I think that’s what magic is: this curiosity of discovering everything about the world.’ Joanna said. ‘You believe something and then you try to see if it can be real.’


With every room decorated with hanging books, broomsticks, wands or crystal balls, the whole exhibit is full of magical relics, and that includes J.K. Rowling’s own personal writing history. Fans will be able to see notes from early drafts of the Harry Potter books, loaned by the author. Among these is a handwritten list of teachers and subjects at Hogwarts, and an annotated sketch of the school itself – complete with giant squid, of course.

J.K. Rowling said that the British Library have done an ‘incredible job’ with the exhibition.

‘Encountering objects for real that have, in some shape or form, figured in my books has been quite wonderful, and to have several of my own items in the exhibition is a reminder of 20 amazing years since Harry was first published,’ she said.

From the wizarding world to the real world, there’s a lot of magic in our Muggle history to learn about as well. One rather exciting attraction is the unveiling of the Ripley Scroll: a six-metre-long manuscript from the 1500s from which one would be taught how to make a Philosopher’s Stone. That’s not the only reference to the first Potter adventure either; there’s also the tombstone of Nicolas Flamel himself – the real one, that is.

‘I hadn’t realised Nicolas Flamel was a real person,’ admitted Tanya Kirk, another curator working on the exhibition. ‘It’s been so great being able to immerse ourselves in the history of magic.’

Every room has little surprises to watch out for, from interactive opportunities to ‘make potions’, to plant pots that play Stephen Fry’s voice reading Harry Potter books when you lift them up.

The British Library prepare their exhibition, Harry Potter: A History of Magic
The British Library prepare their exhibition, Harry Potter: A History of Magic.

And this is only the beginning. Once the exhibition opens, the British Library will be launching a number of events, such as panels, discussions and much more besides. We guarantee you’ll be bona fide magical history experts upon leaving this exhibition.

Harry Potter: A History of Magic at the British Library opens 20 October. Tickets are available here.

Available to pre-order now, Pottermore is also publishing two official eBooks alongside the exhibition: Harry Potter - A History of Magic and Harry Potter - A Journey Through the History of Magic. An enhanced edition of Harry Potter – A History of Magic is available from Apple. And, if you prefer physical versions, these will also be available in print from Bloomsbury.

For US readers, Harry Potter: A Journey Through the History of Magic will publish this year, and further publishing is planned when the exhibition opens in the US in 2018.