Thursday 24 October 2019

Politics and ProtestImage

‘Shame and scandal in the family’: it’s only a throwaway comic line in a Caribbean song, but countries are still dealing with these powerful social and moral undercurrents. How they change over generations is explored in Exposed! Scandal and Shame Reconsidered’ in King’s Cross, London (21 November, 6.30–8.30pm). 

The panel discussion, organised by Palgrave Macmillan for the 2019 Being Human festival, examines how the things we want to discover – and those we want to keep secret –change over time. The topics include ‘dark money’ and women’s bodies. It examines the shifts in what is seen as scandalous and shameful at any given point in time. 

Race has always stimulated rich discussions – so what’s new? Not much! As long ago as the 1790s people were arguing about the remarkable French Caribbean revolutionaries being held prisoner at Portchester Castle in Hampshire – more than 2,000 of them. 

Their stories are intertwined with those of Parisian prisoners who engaged with issues of race, gender and freedom through theatre during the Napoleonic wars in ‘Portchester’s Castle’s Prisoners of War’ (organised by the University of Warwick, 15 November, 2–3.30pm)And renowned sound artist Elaine Mitchener has created a sound installation to bear witness to this unique chapter in Franco-British history. 

Likewise, not much has been written about the 2,000 or so mixed-race babies born in the UK during World War 2, the children of US servicemen and British women. So ‘Being Mixed-Race: Stories of Britain's black GI’ babies (organised by Anglia Ruskin University, 14–23 November, 10am–6pm) offers a welcome airing of their stories.  

These events are part of the fascinating ‘Politics and protest’ 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 200 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 festival 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.”

‘Politics and Protest’ is a rich strand for Being Human and many events in this year’s programme will uncover untold stories and diverse histories, shaping new ideas and perspectives about our past. 

This year’s highlights include: 

  • ‘Displays of Power’ Community Takeover (organised by University College London, 23 November, 1–5pm) is a celebratory and creative afternoon intended to change perceptions of the natural world. Create your own museum interpretation inspired by the Displays of Power exhibition that looks at where the animals in the collection came from. 
  • Untold Histories of Empire (organised by the University of Liverpool, 14–23 November, 10am–5pm). A not-so-usual treasure hunt through the collections. Explore untold histories, uncover the origins of objects attained during the empire and learn more about the ongoing legacies of Britain’s global past. You will be given clues to help you find your way through the collections and to piece together a deeper understanding of the complex and difficult histories of some of the objects on display.
  • Gay Sex and the Disappearing City (organised by University of Exeter, 17 November, 6–7.30pm) draws from autobiography, historical sources and fieldwork notes collected in gay clubs and darkrooms in Berlin. This performance for two readers and viola da gamba explores the ways in which cities have offered queer folk spaces to discover intimacy, sex and belonging, and the challenges posed by the disappearance of LGBTQ+ venues in places like London. 
  • Gate: Exploring the Power of Borders (organised by Queen Mary University of London, 21 November 10am-12pm). We live in complex times with currents and counter currents of migration taking place across the globe. These floating populations understand that borders matter. This workshop, organised by artist Janetka Platin and Olivia Sheringham (Poiesis), invites you to reflect on your own experiences and feelings of un/welcome.

This is just a sample of some of the many free public events taking place across the UK. The other programme themes are history, science and technology, nature and environment and music. The full programme is available to view now at  


Notes to Editors

1. Find out more about the festival at  and on social media, Twitter @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_