The annual Being Human festival drew to a close last week following 11 days of events held across the UK and beyond. This year researchers and staff from 80 different universities and research organisations across the country presented over 260 free, public events and activities inspired by this year’s theme of ‘new worlds’ and all exploring fascinating humanities research. The majority of events took place online, but were still very much rooted in their local communities and contexts, with festival activity taking place from 54 different towns and cities across the country, exploring everything from Black Country dialect to the history of the humble charity shop.

Festival launch

The festival opened with a special online launch event with festival patron Professor David Olusoga in conversation with Being Human director Professor Sarah Churchwell. The discussion spanned “rewriting” and reimagining history, diversity and inclusivity and reflections on public history and the value of the humanities in a true era of ‘new worlds’. A short film was also produced for the launch of the festival, highlighting a few of the projects taking place across the country, and set to the wonderful worlds of Keith Jarrett, a London-based poet. Catch up on the recording here.

Event highlights

Despite the challenges posed by a largely online and digital festival, there were still lots of creative and innovative ways to get involved at home, including a ‘theatre-by-post’ project as part of The University of Sheffield’s festival hub programme, and several hands-on workshops including ‘Making Medieval Ink’ led by Sara Charles from the Institute of English Studies, at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, who posted out kits to participants' homes. Other events and activities ranged from ‘Being Human Cafes’ (small, community-focussed events) to virtual museum lates, performances, online exhibitions, talks and virtual tours!

Ingredients for medieval ink making, including oak galls, are laid out on a table
Catch up

Many of this year's events were recorded, and you can find them over on our YouTube channel, including 'The Magical Mind of Terry Pratchett' where Neil Gaiman, Rhianna Pratchett and Rob Wilkins discuss the life, stories and legacies of one of the world's most loved authors; 'Being Human in Conversation: The American Election' where Bonnie Greer OBE and Professor Sarah Churchwell reflect on the recent election and the future of American democracy; 'Are You a Woman?' a live event bringing to life a newly discovered Sumerian poem from 2,000 BCE, in which two women hotly debate what it takes to be a good woman; and 'GLOW' - an online museum late presented by the Museum of English Rural Life, exploring light and dark. Find more on our YouTube channel here.

Four episodes of BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking drew on research showcased at this year's festival, catch up on them here: ‘The Mayflower and Native American History’; ‘What we cherish and what we give away?’, ‘Postcolonial Derby: Privateers, Pieces of Eight and the Postwar Playhouse’; and ‘About Face’. 2020's festival also saw the production of many excellent podcasts! So if you're looking for something new to listen to you can still discover 'Global Derbyshire in 10 Objects', a podcast mini-series rooted in objects from collections at Derby Museums, archives and library, and looking at themes of exploration, exploitation and Empire.

Two people sit in front of microphones at Derby Museums.

Recording 'Global Derbyshire in 10 Objects: Derby World Cultures' with jewellery designer Anisha Parmar and Rachel Atherton from Derby Museums. Photo courtesy of Derby Museums.

Thank you

A huge thanks go out to all involved in this year's festival – despite the unpredictable circumstances, the ever-changing restrictions and all of the challenges, thousands of people came together (albeit virtually!) to celebrate and champion the humanities for another year. Special shout outs to our festival hubs in Derby, Glasgow, Sheffield and Swansea, and a big thanks also goes out to festival partners the Arts and Humanities Research Council and The British Academy, for their ongoing support. We hope this year's festival has inspired some ideas for shaping and understanding our new world – for tackling some of the crises and challenges around us, for offering worlds of solace, creativity and escapism, and for ways of understanding being human and our shared humanity. We hope to see you again next year!