Uncomfortable truths – how humanities research reveals the big picture 

Thursday 24 October 2019

Given Oxford’s overarching image as a city of stability and privilege, it gets a more rounded perspective, including some uncomfortable truths, with Oxford Unwrapped organised by the University of Oxford (TORCH – The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities).  

This includes the ‘Uncomfortable Oxford’ alternative walking tours which raise awareness of lesser known events in Oxford’s history. They will encourage discussion about historical legacies which have had a lasting impact on the modern environment of the city and university (15–17 November, 11am–12.30pm). 

The event is part of the fascinating ‘Nature and environment’ strand of the sixth annual Being Human festival that celebrates and shares humanities research across the UK (14–23 November). It’s 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. 

Professor Sarah Churchwell, director of the festival said: “The humanities help us to understand what it means to be human. 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.”

‘Nature and environment’ is a rich strand for Being Human and many events in this year’s programme will reveal the ways in which humanities can help us to achieve a deeper understanding of our environment and the country’s diverse landscapes.

This year’s highlights include: 

  • Draw from the Ground (organised by Lancaster University, 16 November, 11am– 3pm). Discover the secrets of one of the world’s most curious minerals at this hands-on exploration of graphite in the heart of the Lake District. Learn about the region’s geological and industrial past and be inspired by the ideas of Victorian art critic and geologist John Ruskin.
     
  • Animal Magic: A MERL Late (organised by University of Reading, 21 November, 7pm–10pm). Discover a new side to rural life at this late night extravaganza. Find out more about our animal friends and what they say about us as people. Expect live music, craft activities, silent disco and a cocktail bar.
     
  • Fern Crazy (organised by Liverpool John Moores University, 14 November, 10am–5pm). Discover the Victorian passion for ferns through a range of family-friendly activities and exhibits at Sefton Park Palm House. Explore forgotten crafts, stories, and objects, spot the fern fairies and help create a fernery for a new generation. 
     
  • On the Beach: Discovering Early Humans in Norfolk (organised by Queen Mary University of London, 15 November, 7.30–10pm) takes a look at the earliest humans in Britain. In an evening talk and family-friendly day of activities, delve into our distant past through the discoveries that have been made on Norfolk’s Happisburgh beach.
     
  • Romancing the Gibbet, (organised by the University of the West of England) Sample ‘dark tourism’ at sites of extraordinary public execution in rural Georgian Britain. Researchers will explain the historical background to a single public hanging, perform some spoken-word poetic responses, and introduce the project’s four free audio trails – through which visitors can immerse themselves in this dark history.
     
  • Making Sense of the Black Country (organised by the University of Wolverhampton, 23 November, 11am–6pm). Ramble along this multi-sensory walk across the Black Country’s overlooked landscape, where its literature and history will be brought to life by writers and actors. The event promises to change your perception of this often overlooked or ‘neglected’ region.
     
  • When the Cows Came Home (organised by Newcastle University, 18 November, 2–4.30pm). Come and share your memories of cattle and sheep at a workshop examining how these animals have featured in our daily lives. Listen to stories from the archives, share your personal recollections and talk with experts on local livestock. 

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 beinghumanfestival.org.  

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

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

Ends   

Notes to Editors 

  1. Find out more about the festival at www.beinghumanfestival.org 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 maureen.mctaggart@sas.ac.uk 
     
  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 www.sas.ac.uk 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 ahrc.ukri.org 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 press@thebritishacademy.ac.uk  or 020 7969 5273 / 07500 010 432. www.britishacademy.ac.uk. Twitter @BritishAcademy_