It’s not Hogwarts, but there will soon be a place in Canada where magic is studied.
Carleton University in Ottawa has announced it is looking for a someone to fill the spot of Chair for the Study of Conjuring Arts.
The position is being created thanks to a $2-million gift from The Slaight Family Foundation, whose patriarch, Allan Slaight, has had a lifelong fascination with magicians.
The position will not just focus on illusionists and showmen, says Alastair Summerlee, Carleton’s interim president. Instead, the chair will look more broadly at the topic of deception and illusion.
“There’s a long history of people engaged in conjuring arts in almost every culture,” Summerlee explained to CTV’s Your Morning Friday.
“It creates an opportunity to think about how do individuals persuade others that something magical is happening when, of course, it’s really deception or illusion,” he said.
The use of persuasion and deception finds its way into many areas of study, from politics to marketing, to film, art and even warfare. Addressing the question of why people can be deceived will also involve looking at questions incorporating neuroscience and psychology.
“So actually it’s an entry into the whole process of perception and deception. If you think about it, almost every aspect of our lives these days involves talking about exactly that,” Summerlee said.
One of the roles of the chair will be to build a collection of journals and artifacts associated with conjuring arts, working with other centres around the around to expand the collection.
Carleton’s Archives and Research Collections (ARC) already has several books related to the conjuring art, including a copy of Miracle Mongers and Their Methods, signed by Harry Houdini.
Summerlee says magicians have long been some of history’s greatest performers. Houdini is likely the name that comes top of mind when one is asked to think about the most influential magicians of all time.
“He was a great showman and obviously an individual who captured everybody’s imagination. But he was really deceiving us in that process,” he said.
“So we want to look back at people who influenced us and say well, how did that happen? What other influences in our lives? Where else are we being deceived or influenced to think in a particular way.”
An interdisciplinary search committee with faculty members from History, Music, Psychology and Film Studies, among others will be part of the search for the new chair. Summerlee says several people have already expressed interest and the hope is that the ideal candidate will be found this summer.