Many aspects of modern Hogwarts correlate to those of modern muggle schools. Prefects, for example. Starting at age 11, so by age it fits in easily with primary school.
Hogwarts has been around for something close to 1,000 years, and undoubtedly changed greatly over that time. Picking though aspects of the school, trying to figure out which should be the same and which should be different, is hard. Because of Hogwarts's habit of reflecting muggle school, I was doing some research into early medieval universities. I liked this podcast.
Most universities where part of the Church. They were all-male, and students started at age of 14 or 15. Latin was the language of learning (That's where the term "grammar school" comes from — you need to learn Latin grammar first before you can go to school in it). Most schools didn't offer housing, at least at first, so students lived in town. Many had part-time jobs too. They were young, growing up, and not supervising liked they'd be in a dorm, so drinking, whoring, and rowdiness were definitely pretty common, and because of that the towns disliked them.
The town of Hogsmeade grew around Hogwarts, not the other way around, which was the case for all muggle universities. So when Rowena was designing the castle, there was no village for the students to live in, and therefore the school dorms must've been part of the original school design. Also, with Salazar's distrust of muggles, I suspect he thought that having the students live inside the castle was safest.
The houses were originally about which teachers would teach which students, but by modern times they've evolved into which students live together, and they all are taught by the same teachers. Did that change as soon as the founders passed the school to the next generation of professors, or some other way?
This is an issue we've been talking about for a while. The vast majority of students are coming to Hogwarts illiterate, and Helga would never let them be given lesser classes. It's Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and yet... I think the first year or so would have to be largely devoted to learning how to read and write... if students are taught in the modern way, with books. I know that many early Greek philosophers taught orally. They would sit around in circles, talk (talk a lot) and discuss and debate ideas. It's a very different way than contemporary universities of the 11th century, but keep one thing in mind:
- At the time and place, the only other people teaching were the Church, which was the Roman Catholic Church, with Latin and books and stuff. They weren't fans of magic. This had nothing to do with fear or witch burns; the Church was just saying that magic wasn't real, only God had that kind of power, and that everyone should calm down and stop being so superstitious and paranoid about magic. Still, why would the proud pure-bloods ever convert to a religion who didn't embrace and celebrate magic? I know not a whole lot is documented about earlier Celtic faiths, but I think they were all pretty magic-friendly, hence druids and stuff. Germanic paganism — seiðr. The whole method of teaching in universities came from the Church, and if wizards weren't taking to the Church, why would they adopt their teaching method? Would they keep their older, more oral, methods of teaching and learning?
That being said, the Church had been around for centuries, and been leaking culture and ideas all over. It's easy to see in the names of many of our characters.
And there is a Latin element on the school. All magic spells are in Latin, for one. The school motto Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus. The concept school itself. for another. Any use of the Latin alphabet instead of runes.
In modern Hogwarts, students buy their own textbooks at the start of each term, but in the 11th century that's be quite hard. Copying books by hand was very tedious and expensive. It'd be cheaper with house-elves doing the work, but it's still not cheep. Paper was just making it's way to eastern Europe via China, so parchment was the only option. Parchment's made from animal skins, and you had to scrape it, wash it, treat it with lime or lye or something, stretch it, sand it.
Each student having their own book would be impossible, and even having a set of classroom books that the class used year after year, and was owned by the school, would be hard.
Godric is a Anglo-Saxon name. Rowena is the Latinized version of an Anglo-Saxon or Welsh name. Helga's a bit more Norse — maybe she was of part Viking decent. Salazar's different, it's from Spanish and Basque — perhaps he left Spain because of the Moors? Or perhaps he was born in Spain, and studied there (the Moors set up a bunch of of those amazing Arabic universities) and then went to areas like Britain where the Dark Ages were darker, intent to spread learning?
So we've got one Englishman, one English-or-Welsh, one probably-part-English-and-part-Viking, and one Spaniard. You've still end up with more English than anything else, so I'll bet English is what the founders spoke to each other in. And this is backed up by the place-names Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. These are very English names — not Welsh, not Viking, not Spanish, not Arabic, not Scottish. Hogwarts's location in the Scottish Highlands was chosen because it was a desolate place where they wouldn't have to worry about muggles. So Hogwarts is an English-speaking school in Scotland, which wasn't an English-speaking region at the time.
Nowadays, Hogwarts serves British Isles, which is all English-speaking. But at the time, you had students who spoke only Welsh, only Irish, or Scottish Gaelic, or perhaps Scottish Gaelic and Western Norse but not English. And so before you can even start classes, you need to make sure everyone can understand each other.
- Old English (England)
- Brittonic (Wales, Cornwall, Strathclyde) — Old Welsh essentially, and Old Cornish, before they became separate. They were likely different dialects by this point, but not different languages.
- Middle Gaelic (Ireland, Scotland) — Scottish Gaelic and Irish were nearing being separate languages by now, but not quite separate yet.
- Old Norse (Norse settlements all over the islands) — There were two different dialects: East Norse (Sweden and Denmark) and West Norse (Norway and Iceland), but it was all one language.
- Old French (France)
Helga would never let them leave kids out because of linguist differences. And if you think about it, all of the languages had some representation there. Helga's a Norse name, so she was likely from a Norse-influenced area of the island, and likely spoke it at least a little. The same also may be true of Rowena and Brittonic. And because their new school was in Scotland and the founders were all smart people who loved learning, they may have learned Gaelic too. As for French, the Norman invasion wasn't until after their time, so the founders wouldn't need to worry about it.
It's not only students have a range of native languages, but professors too. And older students, who've already learned English, and can teach the younger ones. I've often heard that teaching languages in classes teaches all wrong, and it's not the way people used to teach them.
In modern times, students are sent a supply list with their acceptance letter. A uniform, textbooks, a wand, some potions stuff, and a telescope.
The textbook part is surely modern, as we already discussed. The telescope wasn't invented until the early 1600s.
The Hogwarts school uniform is traditional wizarding clothes, in black. I always took this part to be some sort of culture preservation. To keep wizarding dress alive in the younger generation, who might otherwise gravitate to muggle clothes. But this is back in a time when everyone's wearing robes anyways, I doubt they're be a uniform. You don't need to buy anything, you just need to bring your clothes with you to school.
You need your own wand, of course. Potions equipment may also be required. Or maybe not. Without written recipes, Potions class might be taught completely differently. They might have class cauldrons and knives and stuff instead of having everyone bring their own.
Otherwise, by the logic of students-need-to-prove-their-own-stuff-for-potions-and-astronomy class, it would follow that students would need to prove their own stuff for other classes too. And in Outdoor Etiquette, that'd mean boys need their own swords, which I can only assume are pricey. Although they'd probably be practicing with wooden swords, which probably didn't cost much.
I imagine something kind of like the modern broom situation in modern Hogwarts: There's a bunch of crummy school swords. Those who can afford their own have their own, and loudly complain about the school swords. ("They're totally off-balance." "Excuse me, how would you know? You've had your own sword since first year.")
Social class, there's a question of class. I kind of thought the Etiquette classes were really for parents — so they could sent their kids to school and feel ok, knowing that they'd still be learning the practical, non-magical things they need to know. But what's practical varies a lot by class. Sword fighting is practical for upper-class boys, but for lower-class boys won't get far in life if they know how to fight but not farm. The same is true for girls — embroidery might be important for the upper-class girls, but the lower-class ones likely need to know how to preserve food from the harvest for winter. But the upper-class kids do need those flashy skills for their lives too.
I was thinking about Roman cultural things and Latin spells, and I started thinking about Roman baths. And I was thinking about how the tub in the prefect bathroom is the size of a small pool. One room, one big tub, not multiple smaller ones... This sounds very Roman to me.
Prefects and modern plumbing are both relatively modern, so it was surely built later. Therefor, that prefect bath didn't mean much... unless it was based on an older bath setup at Hogwarts.
It's not at all hard to imagine someone in more modern times objecting to Roman bathing, and people ripping out the Roman baths and replacing them with shower stalls or something. (I don't think they never mention the non-prefect baths, but shower stalls are common.) Maybe years after that happened, some ex-student now-headmaster thought back on the injustice of the theft of their swimming-pool baths. They knew they couldn't put them back, the parents would protest, but maybe if it was just for the prefects, and a secret, it could happen...
Education as a Tradition
Now, we're used to education being just a thing you do. It's legally mandated, and essentially everyone goes to at least several years of it.
But what if they didn't? If you lived on a farm, and no one in your family had ever gone to any kind of school before, and someone offered to take you to a school, what would you say? You'd be shut up there for seven years, and ultimatum you wouldn't learn anything about farming, nor would you learn a trade. Would you go?
And even if for some reason you chose to go, there's the issue of cost. Even if Helga insured school was free, if your family had a farm or similar trade, they'd be loosing a worker. There's no way around that. So even if school didn't cost anything to attend, your family might not be able to afford for you to go.
No wonder most of our students are aristocratic. The only one I can think of that I'd call middle class is Dionisia Ayr, and she's got a few things that allow her to. For one, her grandmother has two trades, which probably puts her at a bit of an economic advantage. Second, both trades are things she can do alone. She might enjoy involving Dionisia in her work, but she can just as easily do it alone. Third, Dionisia does have an apprenticeship — with her grandma. So while she has less time to devote to that, she doesn't have to give up having an apprenticeship in order to go to Hogwarts.
There's 7 years of study at Hogwarts; the most powerful magical number. But where does the idea of starting at age 11 come from? Muggle school. Muggles start secondary school at age 11, and if you've been going to muggle school, like muggle-borns, and others who's parents think muggle school is a good idea, it's an easy transfer. People can say their child is going to a boarding school for secondary school, and no one will question that.
But without that, why start at age 11? Why's special about 11?
Do all students even need to start at the same age?
10 is fairly clearly children, while 20 is fairly clearly adults, but out of the time in between those two, why start at age 11? In the wizarding world, the age of majority is 17, which ties into the number 7, so I bet is a traditional thing. If I had to guess I'd say it's from later medieval times, like so many medieval things too. The 11th century is a long time ago, and many medieval things didn't start until a little later.
When life was harder and shorter, why not have people come of age at 14 (double 7)? Or if you really want them to be mature at that point, why not wait until triple 7, 21?
Giving wands to 7-year-olds sounds like a really stupid idea. Starting at 14 is perfectly reasonable, but if you start at 14, they're not done until 21, and while I know very little about medieval stuff, I think that medieval 21-year-olds were supposed to be married with a kid or perhaps even two.
So at what age could you maybe safely give kids wands at? 10 perhaps? That would finish you at 17, which is on the later side of times to get married, but not terribly late. If people were used to graduate from Hogwarts at age 17, could that be where the 17-age-of-majority comes from? 7 + 10. Where does that 10 come from, what does 10 have to do with anything? Could it have been Hogwarts-derived?
But even if we say 10 is the age of starting Hogwarts, would all students start age that age? What if you didn't find out about Hogwarts at first? Or what if your mother didn't want to let you go that young? Would the starting age have to be formalized?
And what if you didn't want to stay for the whole time? What if you went to Hogwarts for a few years, learned how to control your magic, learned some of everything, and then decided you wanted to become a potioneer. So you drop out to be an apprentice to a potioneer.
Or what if you learn all the basic stuff in your first 5 years — the last two years must be fancy stuff you don't really need, since you already know more magic than your father does — and you drop out to get married. You're a half-blood from a muggle village, and everyone else your age is getting married, and you need to marry now, before everyone you grew up with pairs off.
Or maybe your parents could afford to spare you for the past few years, but this year is a bad year and they really need you on the farm, so you drop out.
So the point I'm trying to get at is, can we take for granted that all — or perhaps even most — students graduate? And without standardized tests like OWLs or NEWTs that you need to get a job later, why shouldn't you drop out when you feel you've learned enough? Does that official 7-year-ending really mean much under those circumstances? If you look at the year categories, you'll notice there are 4 fourth years and 4 fifth year, but only 2 sixth years, and 2 seventh years. I know this has nothing to do with dropping out, and it's just the ages people happened to make chars, but I still think it's really interesting.
People are inventing new spells constantly, and many — perhaps even most or all — of the spells in modern may not have existed in the 11th century. I'll leave that at that.
Hogsmeade and other settlements
I've always thought Hogsmeade grew up around the castle, for protection, just like serfs around normal castles. I have this quote in my head I can't quiet remember, about barnacles on the castle wall.
So if the castle is 60-70 years old, the village is about age, maybe a little younger. Nowadays, Hogsmeade is the only all-wizarding settlement in Britain, but this was not necessarily true in the 11th century. Nowadays, wizards fear muggles, and spreading out makes them less detectable. Then, muggles feared wizards, and clustering may have been a good idea.
London was the biggest city by this point, and there was surely some sort of wizarding presence there. However, it was likely different than modern Diagon Alley. Diagon Alley is a bunch of shops, by wizards and for wizards. But without the International Statute of Secrecy, you could sell magic to muggles, which was surely more profitable. For example, Gringotts was founded in 1474, and that's still a long way off.
Giants, goblins, and others
- Ron: There aren't any left in Britain now, though.
Harry: What happened to them?
Ron: Well, they were dying out anyway, and then loads got themselves killed by Aurors. There're supposed to be giants abroad, though.... They hide out in mountains mostly....
Giants are on the verge on extinction now. But back in the 11th century, it's a very different story. What would happen if giants were just out there? I don't know! But the idea is interesting.
Also, goblins. Right now, one of their big issues is that they can't have wands. The Wand Ban was passed by the Wizards' Council in 1631. That's ages from now. What would goblins do with wands? What did they do that led wizards to ban them? I don't know that either, but it's another interesting idea.
And what about the merfolk in the Great Lake? Where they there all along? Would they be pissed about people building schools and towns on the shores of their loch? Or did they move there in later times, for safety from muggles?
And elves. Ron says they come with old houses — could that mean in older times they were more common, but became less so over the ages?
And how did house-elves evolve anyways? It's hard to imagine they're the way that are totally naturally. Did people kill disobedient elves, thus breeding them weirder and more submissive over the centuries?
And what about the other "little people"? Faeries, Pixies, and Doxys are are insect-like in all ways but appearance. Imps and Gnomes are like them too, but they can't fly. Leprechauns are the only fully sentient ones.
Erklings, goblins, and elves are the only ones that over a foot in height, and therefore big enough to be taken seriously and not in danger of being squashed to death. They can all speak human languages, although Erklings less well than the others.
The International Stature of Secrecy is still many hundreds of years away, and muggles are fully aware of magic. To a degree.
For one, wizards aren't out there educating muggles about magic. So they surely have some misinformation. And secondly, many wizards are still a bit furtive. The promise of being able to magically fix all ills is very alluring, and if your neighbors knew they'd never let you sleep. They'd show up at two in the morning with their crying babies, begging for magic.
And another thing; if muggles know about wizards, that would also mean wizards know more about muggles. Not everything, of course, but still, with the worlds less divided, both would know a great deal more about the other.
At this pint in history, the Church was saying, "Magic isn't real. Only God has that kind of power. Everyone should stop being so paranoid and superstitious."
So people who listen to them aren't going to believe in magic: People who claim to be magic are liars, with smoke and mirrors, making up shit and charging money for it.
And to be sure, some of the people who claim to be wizards are just lying muggles who are good at slight of hand. More may be those who genuinely think they are, but in fact are not. Poor, misguided fools, who think you can learn to be magic, or who falsely believe themselves to be muggle-borns.
Another thing I'd like to play with is how sexism differs between wizards and muggles. For most of history, people believed men were more intelligent than women, and so they educated their sons and not their daughters, and then because they were educated the sons appeared more intelligent, and it kept going round and round.
Hogwarts was co-ed from the beginning, being found by two witches. And because women were educated, people could see that they're equally intelligent.
And this stark difference in cultures has to play out somehow? If a wizard married a muggle woman, would witches laugh at him, saying he's so insecure and unmanly that he needs a stupid muggle girl in order to feel good about himself? If a witch married a muggle, would people say she had no self-respect?
This is not to say wizarding culture isn't at all sexist, especially in the 1000s. But the basic idea that men and women are of more-or-less equal intelligence is groundbreaking.
Also, sexism varies by culture, and we have a few different ones in play.