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

Monday 8 September 2014

More than 100 free-to-attend events in over 60 venues nationwide

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.’

Find out more about the festival at www.beinghumanfestival.org and follow the latest news about the festival on Twitter at @BeingHumanFest (hashtag #BeingHuman14).

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Notes for editors:

1. If you are a journalist and require further information, please contact: Dee Burn at the School of Advanced Study at dee.burn@sas.ac.uk / 020 7862 8670. Images available on request.

For all other enquiries, please contact: Being Human Festival Team, School of Advanced Study, University of London at
+44 (0)20 7862 8653 / beinghuman@sas.ac.uk

2. Being Human: A festival of the humanities 15–23 November 2014.
What does it mean to be human? How do we understand ourselves, our relationship to others and our place in nature? For centuries the humanities have addressed these questions. Artists, writers, philosophers, theologians and historians have considered who we are, how we live and what we value most. But are these long-standing questions changing in 2014? We are more connected than ever, yet we spend more time with smart phones and computers than face to face. The world is becoming smaller, yet the digital information we can access and store, even about ourselves, is vast and growing.  Developments in science and technology are moving fast, challenging our understanding of the self and society. What sense can we make of these changes and what challenges do we face? We need the humanities more than ever to help us address these issues and provide the means to question, interpret and explain the human predicament.

The festival is held as part of the School of Advanced Study’s 20th anniversary celebrations and draws on the success of the 2013 King’s College Festival of the Humanities. Being Human will be the UK’s first national festival of the humanities. Led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, and universities, arts and cultural organisations across the UK, it will demonstrate the value, vitality and relevance of the humanities in 2014. Find out more at www.beinghumanfestival.org or follow the festival on Twitter at @BeingHumanFest.

3. The School of Advanced Study (SAS) at the University of London is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and facilitation of research in the humanities. The School brings together 10 prestigious research institutes to offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. The member institutes of the School are the Institutes of Advanced Legal Studies, Classical Studies, Commonwealth Studies, English Studies, Historical Research, Latin American Studies, Modern Languages Research, Musical Research, Philosophy, and the Warburg Institute. The School also hosts a cross-disciplinary centre, the Human Rights Consortium, dedicated to the facilitation, promotion and dissemination of academic and policy work on human rights. Find out more at www.sas.ac.uk or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.

4. The Arts and 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. www.ahrc.ac.uk

5. The British Academy is the UK’s national champion of the humanities and social sciences. As a Fellowship of distinguished scholars and researchers from all areas of the humanities and social sciences, it promotes these disciplines and facilitates the exchange of knowledge and ideas. It funds research across the UK and internationally, and seeks to raise understanding of some of the biggest challenges of our time through policy reports, forums, conferences, publications and public events.  For more information, please visit www.britishacademy.ac.uk. Follow the British Academy on Twitter @britac_news.