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Curator's highlights - Being Human 2016

By Michael Eades | Being Human festival curator

Quite apart from some rather seismic developments on the political stage – many of them mirroring our Being Human ’16 festival theme of ‘Hope and Fear’ – there have been some incredibly exciting developments in the world of the Being Human festival, too. Last week we hosted our first ever Being Human showcase.

Organised by our incredible AHRC-funded visiting cultural engagement fellow Dr Naomi Paxton, the day celebrated the successes of the 2015 Being Human festival as well as offering a preview of what’s in store this year.

Our 2016 showcase

The day started with an inspiring and very topical lecture from professor Lyndsey Stonebridge exploring the role of literary authors in shaping human rights law – a taster of the University of East Anglia’s incredible Writing Human Rights series of events from Being Human ’15. We then had an opportunity to engage with a literary vortex from Aberystwyth University – which ‘quantified’ our reactions to the thrills of Romantic art and literature. We heard from the Drood enquiry organised by the Digital Dickens project at the University of Buckingham, robots from the University of Sheffield’s Cyberselves, and comic book artists from Dundee University’s Mary Shelly’s Dundee.

We were also treated to fantastic pop-up performances from Graveyard voices – staged in Cathays cemetery for Being Human ’15 by the University of South Wales – and Windsongs of the Blessed Bay, from Swansea University. Professor Sarah Peverley gave us a taste of the University of Liverpool’s Being Supernatural series, and the day closed with a raucous evening of pies, ale and song courtesy of the Intoxicants and Early Modernity project. The V&A’s Angela McShane and Lucie Skeaping from BBC Radio 3 led us into the night with a series of definitely-not-work-safe (but of course highly informative) drinking songs.

Being Human 2016 funding awards

But of course a major purpose of our showcase was to announce some of the amazing programming that we have already lined up for the third Being Human festival in November. Our theme this year is ‘Hope and fear’, and humanities researchers across the country have responded to this with their usual mixture of critical reflection, creativity, flair and imagination.

We were delighted to announce the winners of our funding competition at our showcase. These included six festival hubs at the Universities of Exeter, Dundee, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham and Swansea. These hubs will be playing a leading role in raising the visibility of Being Human right across the UK (whilst also staging, among other things, a Martian autopsy and events exploring the cultural history of mermaids). As ever, we also awarded a large number of grants for individual projects. Across the UK we funded everything from a vertigo-inducing installation in the North Tower of Newcastle’s Tyne Bridge, to an investigation of concrete utopias led by London’s Science Museum. From ghost stories in Belfast, to the story of Britain’s first black theatre owner in Coventry. We funded activities that took genuinely original and innovative approaches to making humanities research accessible, relevant and fun.

We are hugely excited about this year’s Being Human festival. Over nine days in November we will be shining a light on some of the most fascinating work taking place in the humanities across the country (and perhaps beyond!). The funded events are a huge part of this, but there is much more to come as humanities fans and advocates join the festival in the run-up to November. Our theme may be ‘Hope and fear’, but we are counting down to the festival full of confidence that this Being Human is going to be a truly extraordinary celebration of the humanities, containing all the things that make us human in a challenging and often fearful world.