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Being Human Festival: a reflection

Being Human intern and recent University of London graduate Georgia Reeves tells us about her time spent as the festival's roving reporter.

Being Human festival badges
The theme of this year's festival was 'Origins and Endings'

So the Being Human festival is over for another year. It’s been an amazing festival, with hundreds of engaging humanities events, making academic research accessible and fun!

For 2018, I was the Being Human festival Convocation Trust intern. As recent University of London graduate, part of my remit was to explore and support University of London activities within the programme. Following the theme of the festival for this year, I wanted to explore the process from ‘origin to ending’, from how organisers and researchers plan and put together an idea, through to the delivery of a successful and fun public engagement event. As the festival began with the University of London, and has one of its six festival hubs here, I also wanted to see the impact it had throughout the University and its community.

Festival hub

To begin with, I decided to visit our London hub, based at Queen Mary, University of London, before the festival kicked in, to have a nosey at their Being Human plans. I met with Queen Mary’s public engagement team and a few of their organisers, to chat about being a festival hub, and of course, their upcoming Being Human events.

For them, being a part of the festival, and being a hub, meant that they had more moments for collaboration and conversation. Their programme was entitled ‘London Bound’, and the common thread between all of their events was ideas of belonging and identity. As is often in a university, academic departments can tend to operate within their own dialogue, but being involved in the festival fostered communal creative discussion. As Alistair Owens, head of the school of Geography said about our theme choice, ‘Origins and Endings sums up the process of creativity for us’.

Weaving Women's Stories stall at launch of Being Human 2018
'Weaving Women's Stories'

Launch

Next up on my calendar was the real beginning of the festival, the launch night. Held in Senate House, it showcased some of the upcoming festival events, and was a hive of festival organisers, special guests and performances. They included researchers from SOAS, University of London, the organisers of an activity called ‘Living Zoroastrianism’. Bringing a preview of their exhibition at the Brunei gallery (which is still open) they allowed guests to experience an ancient ritual from one of the world’s oldest religions through VR headsets.

Other stalls included SAS’s own Emma Bridges, and her event ‘Weaving Women’s Stories’ - a display of weaving and textiles that explored the connections between storytelling and textile-making in women’s lives throughout history. There were also two previews of Queen Mary’s programme, with ‘Living in Ice Age Hackney’ and ‘The Last of the London’, which saw Dorothy Russell, the first female professor of pathology, projected on to Senate House for the evening. Also engaging with the impressive architecture were ‘Beautiful Confusion Collective’, a site-responsive performance group, supported by the University’s Leading Women campaign.

Roving reporter

I made sure to visit some more University of London events throughout the run of the festival, starting with one organised by Senate House Library, ‘The Beginning of the End for Inequality’. The mini exhibition displayed some fascinating collections surrounding two major anniversaries; the centenary of the first female MP being elected, and the 15 year anniversary of the repeal of Section 28, the anti-gay legislation.

Later, I dropped in to University College London, who were bringing together science, medicine and the humanities for an event called, ‘Exploring Under the Skin’. In the Being Human programme UCL say, ‘Being human is not just skin deep’, and the evening set out to interrogate our perceptions of what lies beneath the exterior. From the mystery of anatomical paintings being dumped outside UCL, to the difference between early anatomical art and modern medical imaging, the event explored how attitudes to our anatomy and inner bodies have developed and changed. Most of all, I discovered the ways that medicine and the humanities work to help us understand ourselves.

To see what was happening at our London hub I headed to Brixton library to find out about ‘The End of Social Housing’. Queen Marys were exploring social housing structures, including housing cooperatives, specifically the Brixton and Effra housing co-ops in Lambeth. The public shared memories of the housing co-ops, crafting them in felt to be woven onto a patchwork map of the Brixton area, with plans to expand the map to include more of the 300 housing co-ops in London. The event focused on the value of housing, asking guests what ‘Home’ meant to them, with answers from ‘a place of love’ to ‘a basic human right’.

Being Human poster 2
"The festival began here at the University last month, and since then has had a huge impact throughout the community and member institutions."

Origins and ending

All in all it has been a fantastic festival, with events all across the UK and beyond, bringing exciting humanities research to hundreds of attendees of all ages and backgrounds. The festival began here at the University last month, and since then has had a huge impact throughout the community and member institutions.

My journey around the Being Human events in London showed me that new educational research can be presented in a fun and engaging way. As a University of London graduate it has been really interesting to see the variety of research going on across the various colleges, and the different ways that research from fields I’ve never explored before can be made accessible and interactive. The festival has highlighted the importance of humanities research, and how significant it is in understanding what ‘Being Human’ really means.