What inspired you to act as a ‘hub’ for Being Human 2018?
What’s not to love about the concept of Being Human? Research impact and its translation in Australia is different from that in the UK so it’s exciting to bring over the unique reciprocity embedded in the ‘two-way street’ model of the festival. The Faculty of Arts at Melbourne is proud of its history of supporting the humanities and our commitment to innovative research, teaching and community outreach. And so, with the humanities disciplines sitting at the heart of the University, this festival offers the opportunity to connect us to the broader public and actively engages us in the celebration and debate of what it means to be human. Adding to this, we can draw on the strength of Melbourne as Australia’s cultural capital whilst re-imagining what a festival can achieve.
How does your programme respond to our ‘Origins and Endings’ theme? Can you tell us about a few highlights from your programme? What are you most excited about and what can people look forward to?
Exploring the idea of origins and endings in Australia is highly relevant at the moment, thinking of how many prime ministers we’ve turned over in recent years, or the various responses to our cultural identity as a nation of migrants. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have the longest continuous living culture in the world and therefore origins and endings is a continual conversation in Australia. With such a breadth of choice, we had to get specific. The Faculty of Arts has a strong Classics department: as one of the founding disciplines of the University, the study of Classics provokes rigorous intellectual engagement with the foundations of our society. Taking this engagement out into the public, our events include: a walking tour uncovering the mythic origins of Rome, Melbourne and the University, and a quiz night delving into general knowledge of all things ancient. I am also excited by two events that cover departure, journey and arrival. Dr Una McIlvenna researches emotional responses to public execution in the early modern era, and she will bring this into an Australian context by investigating convict and execution ballads in ‘Bound for Botany Bay: singing Australia’s convict history’. Associate Professor Sara Wills will host a facilitated dinner, ‘Narrating belonging from Origins to Endings’, where migrants and refugees will share their stories of migration, multiculturalism and identity over a shared meal.
What have you found out about academic collaboration that you didn’t know before you started putting the programme together?
My academic colleagues have been instantly inspired when I say ‘no sage on a stage’! Introducing the notion of communicating research in non-traditional ways has opened up new ideas of delivering our events and a change from business as usual. It is empowering as an engagement and events professional to draw on a different tool-kit as well, that is, focussing on successful impact through engagement with a mutually beneficial outcome for researcher and participant. Not only this, but the importance of evaluation brings a different approach too – thinking not just about attendance numbers, but the impact of the event and emphasis on research. Questions around changing the audiences’ perception of the value of humanities, or even their understanding of humanities funding, means we are celebrating the vitality and social relevance of humanities research.
What will people in Melbourne get out of coming to these events?
Recently Professor Sarah Churchwell and Associate Professor Sara Wills wrote about the imperative for a festival like Being Human, and they said: “… the festival engages the public in critical and creative thinking about ‘being human’ and the role of the humanities at a time when it is more important than ever to cultivate the skills, aptitudes and moral imagination that enable us to live with complexity and difference. Initiating a unique and much-needed public forum for debate and activity, Being Human demonstrates that the humanities should not sit in splendid isolation from other forms of knowledge but should inform the public and the shape of our society. It can and should, for example, inform public policy, an arena in which we need to ask moral questions about how best to meet people's needs. And it can and should have a huge social and economic impact, helping to determine how workplaces are best organised, how companies can prosper and also support cities to thrive.”