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UK's first national humanities festival unveils a rich programme of events

An insight into the first national humanities festival 

UK's first national humanities festival unveils a rich programme of events – More than 100 free-to-attend events in over 60 venues nationwide

Monday 8 September 2014

Forget the eponymous TV programme featuring fanciful adventures of vampires, ghosts and werewolves, Being Human is a powerful nine-day festival highlighting the richness and vitality of humanities research to actively engage members of the public. With less than three months to go – the festival runs 15-23 November – the full programme has been published online today.

More than 100 free-to-attend public events led by over 60 universities will take place across the UK - from Orkney to Truro, Belfast to Swansea, and Liverpool to Norwich. Events will be hosted in all sorts of places including museums, galleries and cultural and community centres – even caves.

Conceived earlier this year, Being Human is led by the University of London’s School of Advanced Study in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. Since its launch, over 100 universities have applied to take part in what is the first festival of its kind in the UK. Festival director, Professor Barry Smith of the School of Advanced Study, said: ‘Being Human will get to the heart of what it means to be human in the digital age.

It will show how our attempts to understand and interpret the human world can guide our thinking about science, society and culture, and shape our conception of ourselves. ‘There is a huge amount of exciting work happening in the humanities right now,’ Professor Smith continued, ‘and we have invited universities across the country to hold their own events to highlight the vitality and interdisciplinary nature of humanities today.’

The programme will offer a range of experiences from a joke-generating computer programme from Brunel University’s Feeling Funny/Being Human project and a coming together of archaeologists, artists, environmental scientists and the local Orkney community in Wilder Being (University of the Highlands and Islands), through to an exploration of the impact of ‘data overload’ on the human consciousness from Too Much Information (School of Advanced Study).

Festival activities will also cover topics as diverse as: medical humanities (Durham University); multi-generational discussions of eight decades of youth culture (Manchester Metropolitan University); how food affects memory (University of Roehampton); public punishment and local memory in the Georgian West Country (University of the West of England); Punch and Judy’s chocolate cornucopia of human knowledge (Royal College of Art); how early modern human used landscapes, resources and ritual to survive and thrive in extreme environments (Queen’s University Belfast); a fresh perspective on the life and work of Dylan Thomas (Swansea University); understanding others (Oxford Brookes University). 36 of the participating universities received small funding grants to help develop their projects.

To qualify they had to successfully demonstrate how they would engage the public with humanities research, while highlighting its role in the cultural, intellectual, political and social life of the UK.

‘Overseeing the programming for Being Human has been an exciting process’, said Dr Michael Eades, Festival Curator and Cultural Contexts Research Fellow. ‘It has offered a rare insight into the inspiring work in the humanities taking place right across the UK, and an opportunity to meet some of the equally inspiring people doing that work.

‘Our programme features leading academics from the humanities alongside familiar faces, including the author and public intellectual Will Self in Aberdeen, the comedian and history enthusiast Al Murray in London, Hacienda DJ turned cultural historian Dave Haslam in Manchester, and poet and translator Simon Armitage in Birmingham. ‘A small army of people, motivated by a desire to share their passion and enthusiasm for the humanities, are creatively contributing to the festival.

These people are giving up their time for free, working evenings and weekends because they are genuinely excited about sharing their research with a wider public, and about the new insights and perspectives that they may gain from this.’