Meet the Notts Professor who moonlights as a magician

Sherlock Holmes is his hero


Dr Todd Landman is the newest addition to the University of Nottingham’s faculty, serving as a Professor of Politics and Pro Vice Chancellor of the Social Sciences department. He is an academic. He is a political scientist. He is American. And he is a magician.

We went to meet Dr Landman to find out more about his life, his career, and especially his love of magic.

Born in rural Pennsylvania in 1966, Todd’s work has taken him all over the US and the world. He’s been in the UK since 1993 after coming over on a research grant.

When did you get your love of magic?

I was interested from the age of eight. I was living in rural Pennsylvania and I used to go to the local magic shop every week with my Dad. One of the guys at the shop sort of took me under his wing and showed me some of the more high quality magic, which was actually more about books, coins and cards – it wasn’t about buying the latest prop. It was very much “you need to go study this.”

This was a time where there wasn’t internet or videos, it was all books. I learnt everything I know about magic from books, and even to this day I still prefer learning new stuff this way.

What sort of magician would you say you are?

An academic one.  Because what I’ve done is, over many years, lead two lives. I’ve lived my academic life, where I’ve studied the world, wrote about the world and taught about the world. All of this makes you learn a lot about people, history and philosophy.

On the side, I lived my magician life, where I would perform at cocktail parties and what have you. I thought what would happen if I combine these two worlds together? Combining the academical and the magical opened up a whole new set of possibilities. I go out and perform as the “academic magician.”

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Do you find that students ever smirk at your accent?

They laugh at it and enjoy it. In terms of British humour and language, I often get people saying “you wouldn’t understand” But hey, I’m not stupid, I’m just American.

So as a Professor and a magician, if you taught at Hogwarts what would it be?

The Dark Arts for sure. The history and philosophy of magic really interests me. I actually am a visiting professor at Huddersfield where I physically teach magic and magical framing. The Harry Potter books are actually really useful for teaching your generation on class, racism and classic political concepts.

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Do you think magic and academia compliment each other well?

Magic and academia complement each other so well because what we’re really talking about is ideas, interests and institutions. I think of the concept of academic magic every day, and how I can incorporate magic in.

I also think it’s very scholarly – you’re reading books and thinking of concepts and ideas, as well as bringing in methods. I’ve often combined the two – I’ve always performed, whether for my students or for university functions.

The magic I do is about interacting with people and having a moment with them where they suspend disbelief and they become enchanted and leave a different person. That’s what makes me happy. I like making people turn into a kid again.

Are there any elements of magic you don’t like?

The cheesy guy with the loud tie. “Mr Magic” – he’s tacky, his misogynistic, he’s offensive. There are still these sorts of magicians around and there’s a big debate within our community around the appropriateness of these performance styles.

There are also problems with representation within magic. Only 6-8 per cent of magicians are women. I read a blog by a female magician who said whenever she goes into a magic shop they assume she is there to buy things for her husband/brother/father. The assumption is that women can’t be magicians but that just isn’t true. Women make fantastic magicians.

Who do you idealize in the magical world?

When I was trying to get into University of Pennsylvania, I wrote my entrance essay on Sherlock Holmes. Years ago I did a show called “Edge of the Unknown” and that was a homage to Conan Doyle. Doyle based Holmes on Dr Bell who could deduced something from a person by just looking at them.

I mean what a great premise for a magic show! The modern Holmes is great as it mixes modern technology, with sleuthing and modern deduction and a little bit of weird.

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What do you love about Nottingham?

The beauty of University Park takes my breath away every time I step outside. I quite like Jubliee as well, the modern layout and design of it is really cool. The GS Spacial Institute is also incredible. I keep finding things that really interest me. I was also warmly welcomed and I love the Nottingham area.

What do your students think about your side career as a Magician?

Over the years students have discovered that I study magic and have become very intrigued. I have performed at Faculty parties. Once I put a sword through the arm of the UN Special Rapporteur on Armed Conflict which is ironic to say the least.

I also bring into my teaching. You can teach statistics with a deck of playing cards. So I would teach the principles and then do a trick and the students never forget what I’ve taught them!

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So finally, will you perform a magic trick for us?

Absolutely.