From our first black Othello to London’s ‘outcast dead’ – Being Human returns

Monday 27 June 2016

The first black actor to play Othello in Britain (in1828) and London’s little known Cross Bones Graveyard, the last resting place for paupers and prostitutes, feature in this year’s Being Human festival to celebrate the diversity of humanities research in the UK.

The festival is led by the School of Advanced Study (SAS) at the University of London, in partnership with the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the British Academy. It has a new director, Professor Sarah Churchwell.

Being Human’s ‘hope and fear’ theme for 2016 has stimulated a rich variety of events. And 38 of them have been awarded small grants of between £500 and £5,000 to participate in the only UK-wide humanities research showcase.

Topics explored range from ghost stories to concrete utopias, radical fiction to radicalisation, homecomings to global migrations, birth to death. Some of the best and brightest minds in the humanities will explore the hopes and fears that shape our human world today.

Highlights include a conversation with a former prisoner of ISIS, an H G Wells inspired ‘Martian autopsy’, an evening of urban shamanism in south London’s Cross Bones Graveyard for the ‘outcast dead’, a vertigo-inducing installation in the towers of the Tyne Bridge, ‘Fright Friday’ at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum and stories of precarious refugee journeys told through music, dance and drama.

There are also a number of designated ‘hubs’ for festival activity outside London. Universities in Dundee, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham, Swansea and Exeter will coordinate festival activities and put forward regional ambassadors to champion the festival.

The nine-day festival will start on 17 November. Free-to-attend public events will be held in unusual venues as well as museums, galleries and cultural and community centres across the UK. A festival showcase, which will preview 2016 activities and offer another opportunity to experience some of the best events of 2015, will be held at Senate House on 27 June. Activities include a ‘vortex’ that measures physical responses to literary terrors, and a pie-and-ale-centred celebration of the history of intoxication. A preview of the day’s activities can be viewed at online at:

‘We are excited to introduce an annual summer showcase of the best of the previous year’s festival, turning Senate House in central London into a day-long celebration of the best of humanities research in the UK,’ said Being Human director, Professor Sarah Churchwell. ‘In this time of uncertainty and growing division, understanding the human world - learning from history, resolving conflict, telling stories about who we are and how we can come together - is more vital than ever. We’re proud to showcase some of the most innovative and thought-provoking examples of the value humanities research brings to our society.’

The 2016 Being Human festival aims to be topical, and to demonstrate the capacity of humanities research to shape and engage with contemporary public debates. Festival applications responding to the ‘hope and fear’ theme will reflect this ambition. Places are still available for self-funded events to be included in this year’s programme. Applications should be made by 30 June via

Alun Evans, chief executive of the British Academy, said: ‘The British Academy for the humanities and social sciences is delighted to support this year’s Being Human Festival. An exploration of hope and fear is certainly topical in the current political climate. It is essential that we celebrate and showcase the work of innovative humanities researchers, who can help us to understand people, culture and the society in which we live.’

Find out more about the festival at and follow the latest news about the festival on Twitter at @BeingHumanFest.

A reception for the award winners and to mark the launch of the Being Human festival will be held on Wednesday 27 June at 5.30pm at Senate House, University of London. Journalists interested in attending should contact / +44 (0)20 7862 8859.


Notes to Editors
1. For all enquiries, please contact: Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations Officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8859 /

2. Being Human: a festival of the humanities 17–25 November 2016
Led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts & Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, Being Human is a national forum for public engagement with humanities research. The festival will highlight the ways in which the humanities can inspire and enrich our everyday lives, help us to understand ourselves, our relationships with others, and the challenges we face in a changing world, and foster world-class knowledge that is vibrant, vital, and accessible to all. For more information, please visit or follow the festival on Twitter at @BeingHumanFest

3. 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 and celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2015. Officially opened in 1995 by Sir Anthony Kenny as a federation of the University of London’s research institutes, it has established itself as the UK’s national humanities hub, publicly funded to support and promote research in the humanities nationally and internationally. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. In 2013-14, SAS: welcomed 743 research fellows and associates; held 2,081 research dissemination events; received 26.4 million visits to its digital research resources and platforms; and received 202,891 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. Find out more at or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.

4. The Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m 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 but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. 

5. The British Academy is the UK's expert body that supports and speaks for the humanities and social sciences – that rich variety of disciplines that study peoples, cultures and societies, past, present and future. It funds research across the UK and in other parts of the world, in disciplines ranging from archaeology to economics, from psychology to history, and from literature to law. The British Academy seeks to raise understanding of some of the biggest challenges of our time through policy reports, forums, conferences, publications and public events. The Academy receives around £30m a year in Government grants to support its work. But it operates autonomously as a Fellowship of more than 1,000 of the world's most eminent scholars in the humanities and social sciences, elected for their outstanding research. For more information, please visit Follow the British Academy on Twitter @britac_news.