For the past four years, I’ve had what must be one of the best jobs in Higher Education: Working at the School of Advanced Study since 2014, I’ve been the manager and principal curator of the Being Human Festival of the Humanities. We established the Festival in 2014 as a forum to showcase cutting-edge humanities research to the public in fun and engaging ways.
In partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the British Academy, the festival is now firmly established and this year it will feature more than 300 events in more than 50 towns and cities across the UK, as well as international activities in Paris, Rome, Singapore and Melbourne.
One of the best things about working on this festival is the incredible perspective it’s given me on the breadth of research taking place within the arts and humanities. It’s also offered an incredible opportunity to meet and work with the people doing that research – the humans behind the humanities.
Hundreds of researchers, archivists, curators and others get involved in Being Human every year. Often, this means that our programme crosses over with other initiatives from festival partners at both the AHRC and British Academy. The overlap with the AHRC’s New Generation Thinkers scheme is a good example.
For a few years now, New Generation Thinkers have tended to feature prominently in our programme. For example, in 2015 Dr Preti Taneja took part in the launch of the festival, talking about her research into Shakespearian performances in Syrian refugee camps.
Dr Sarah Peverley, at the University of Liverpool, also played a massive part in the programme in 2015 and again in 2016, adding stories of werewolves and mermaids to our celebration of Being Human.
In 2016, we were delighted to feature an exhibition curated by St Andrews Academic Dr Anindya Raychaudhuri, which explored the history, legacies, and memories of Indian partition. Last year we also worked with Dr Daisy Hay, who was a designated advocate for our festival hub in Exeter.
We even had a New Generation thinker on the festival team, the irrepressible and inimitable scholar of suffrage theatre, Dr Naomi Paxton. Naomi led programming at the University of London and created her own immersive ‘living literature’ walk around Bloomsbury and Soho.
Partly through our shared connections with the New Generation scheme and the AHRC we’ve been incredibly lucky from 2015 onwards to work closely with BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking. Over the past few years we have created a series of special Being Human broadcasts for the festival, often featuring New Generation Thinkers past and present.
This brings us up to date, and to our 2017 Being Human programme. Themed around ‘Lost and Found’, the programme showcases some incredible research from across the UK. Once again, the New Generation thinkers play a part. I’m particularly excited by a series of activities led by Dr Sarah Jackson from Nottingham Trent University, which among other things will be a series of pop-up activities in a disused phone box, inviting people in Nottingham to explore the history of the telephone and listen to ‘ghostly voices on the wires’.
Naomi Paxton is back, too (I told you she is irrepressible), with a new series of theatrical walks inspired by the lives of women during the First World War, from the West End to the Western Front.
Being Human provides opportunities for researchers in the humanities to share their research with new audiences. It challenges them and supports them in finding new ways to share their knowledge and personal passions in formats that are engaging, involving and fun.
It’s no surprise that the festival has overlapped so organically with the New Generation Thinkers scheme, which is also creating new avenues for researchers to do something absolutely essential: talk about what they do, what they believe in, and what they know in ways that are understandable and exciting to a broad public audience.
If that’s not a job for a new generation of scholars, then what is?
The Being Human festival runs from 17-25 November at venues across the UK and beyond. The festival is led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. The festival celebrates research in the humanities and the many ways it enriches our shared human world and shapes our everyday lives. Details of the festival and the full programme of events can be found at www.beinghumanfestival.org. You can follow the festival on Twitter @BeingHumanfest #beinghuman17
Dr Michael Eades is Public Engagement Manager and Research Fellow at the School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London. He helped establish the Being Human festival of the humanities in 2014 and has been the festival’s manager and principal curator since then. He joined SAS in 2013 to coordinate cultural programming for the School, funded by an AHRC Cultural Engagement Pilot Scheme award. He was then principal investigator on another AHRC-funded project, Bloomsbury Festival in a Box: engaging socially isolated people with dementia – part of the Cultural Value Project.
The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 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 http://www.ahrc.ac.uk or by following us on Twitter at @ahrcpress, on Facebook at Arts and Humanities Research Council, or Instagram at @ahrcpress.