From beetles to books – how ladybirds got the human touch 

Thursday 24 October 2019

Children’s delight with Ladybird books is just one element in the history strand of the Being Human 2019 festival 

Media scare stories of ladybird ‘invasions’ strike a chord with the public because of the seeming innocence of these tiny creatures. And that’s amplified by their associations with the wonderful and iconic Ladybird children’s books of which most people have fond memories.  

Loughborough University will explore the history of how a small market town became a global publisher with a ‘Secret History of Ladybird Books’ event at Charnwood Museum in November. Experts will introduce the museum’s own Ladybird collections with handling sessions, and there will be opportunities for visitors to share their memories and memorabilia of Ladybird books.  

The event is part of the fascinating history strand of the sixth annual Being Human festival that celebrates and shares humanities research across the UK (14–23 November). It is now even growing international shoots with collaborations in the USA, Australia, Italy and Romania.

Led by the School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, the festival is a partnership that includes the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. The theme for 2019 is ‘Discoveries and Secrets’.  

The festival brings together hundreds of academics and researchers to share their research and ideas with the public. They want to demonstrate the ways in which subjects such as history, classics, archaeology, literature, art history, philosophy and languages are relevant to society, culture and everyday life. 

Public engagement drives the programme, and more than 70 participating universities and cultural organisations are staging some 250 events, many of them showcasing collaborations with artists, writers, collectives and performers, across 54 UK towns and cities. 

“The humanities help us to understand what it means to be human,” said Professor Sarah Churchwell, the festival’s director. “From global issues like climate change and the rise of political extremism to hyperlocal issues affecting communities who feel left behind, the humanities provide us with the ideas and critical frameworks to empower people and make a difference.

“Being Human is all about celebrating cutting-edge research in the humanities by making direct connections with communities across the UK. Our events bring people together to work on problems, share ideas and, above all, have fun. It’s a very human humanities festival, and I am delighted with this year’s programme.”

History is always a rich strand for Being Human and many events in this year’s programme will cast light on untold stories and diverse histories, shaping new ideas and perspectives about our past. 

This year’s highlights include: 

  • Classified: A Performance of Queer Dating Ads (organised by The National Archives). A very special performance at the iconic Royal Vauxhall Tavern by Timberlina and Auntie Maureen will bring to life some of the coded, intriguing and sometimes naughty personal ads found at The National Archives and Bishopsgate Institute. Explore how archives can reveal the ways in which queer networks and communication have evolved over the past 100 years. 
  • Excavating Roman Voices (organised by The University of Notre Dame (USA) in England). Gain a new insight into Roman London at this evening of poetry inspired by the hidden voices present within the Bloomberg writing tablets, the earliest written documents found in Britain. The Temple of Mithras is a Roman mithraeum in central London, discovered during construction work in 1954.  
  • Moving Heaven and Earth (organised by The University of Sheffield). Join the court of Charles I for an immersive experience recreating the sights, sounds and tastes of a royal banquet complete with theatrical entertainment. There will be talks to find out more, and craft activities for all ages.  
  • Uncomfortable Oxford Tours (organised by TORCH, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities at the University of Oxford). These alternative walking tours raise awareness of ‘uncomfortable’ events in Oxford’s history, encouraging discussion about historical legacies which have a lasting impact on the modern environment of the city and university. Topics covered include imperialism, inequality, slavery, gender history, religious diversity, violence and memorialisation. 
  • England’s Histories – Unboxed! (organised by the Institute of Historical Research). The Victoria County History project, famous for its iconic Red Books, is writing the history of every county in England. This year it celebrates its 120th anniversary with special Red Boxes in which counties across England have placed objects that represent their history in quirky or surprising ways. The ‘unboxing’ will include an exhibition, object handling and live 3D printing.  
  • We Are Not Amused! (organised by Edge Hill University). Explore the peculiar history of Victorian humour. Drop in to family-friendly workshops and exhibition tours during the day, or attend evening talks and performances featuring Greg Jenner (Horrible Histories) and the comedian Iszi Lawrence (Radio 4’s Making History).  

These are just samples of some of the free public events taking place across the UK in locations where communities are most comfortable. They include everything from caves, art galleries, theatres and cinemas to cafes, pubs and museums – and even a castle. The full programme is available now at 

Also involved are over 230 cultural and community organisations, including libraries, museums, heritage sites, archives and charities.

The ‘history’ strand is one of five – the others are music, science and technology, nature and environment, and politics and protest.  


Notes to Editors 

  1. Find out more about the festival at and on social media, Twitter at @BeingHumanFest and Instagram @BeingHumanFest.
  2. For all enquiries, please contact: Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations OfficerSAS, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8859 
  3. Being Human: the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, 14–23 November 2019. Led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, Being Human festival is a national forum for public engagement with humanities research. Established in 2014, the Being Human festival has quickly become a national presence, and since 2017, the festival has also begun to introduce international partnerships – with activities to date taking place in Singapore, Melbourne, Paris, Rome and Princeton. Every year the festival features around 300 events across the country, working with an average of around 80 universities and research organisations in 50 towns and cities each year. The festival highlights the ways in which the humanities can inspire and enrich our everyday lives and aims to increase understanding of the relevance of the humanities to local and international issues. This year’s festival theme is Discoveries & Secrets.
  4. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled resources, facilities and academic opportunities across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. Last year SAS welcomed 892 research fellows and associates, held 1,903 events highlighting the latest research in the humanities, received 25.9 million online visits to its research resources and platforms, and hosted 173,493 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads Being Human, the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities. Find out more at or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews
  5. The Arts and Humanities Research Council which is part of UK Research and Innovation, funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training, in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe. You can find out more information via or following us on Twitter at @ahrcpress, on Facebook at @artsandhumanitiesresearchcouncil, or Instagram at @ahrcpress.
  6. The British Academy is the voice of the humanities and social sciences. The Academy is an independent fellowship of world-leading scholars and researchers; a funding body for research, nationally and internationally; and a forum for debate and engagement. For further information, please contact the British Academy press office on  or 020 7969 5273 / 07500 010 432. Twitter @BritishAcademy_