University of London

Small Navigation Menu

Primary Menu

You are here:

Being Human 2018: approachable, engaging and fun

This year’s edition of Being Human, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, features 250 events in more than 50 towns and cities across the UK.

Written by Peter Quinn |

Guests pictured in Senate House at the launch of Being Human 2018
“Our aim is to make cutting-edge research in the humanities approachable, engaging and – most of all – fun, for the broadest possible audience."

Being Human festival 2018 achieved lift-off in impressive style last night with a combined showcase and launch event at Senate House, University of London.

In her welcome address, Festival Director Professor Sarah Churchwell, Chair in Public Understanding of the Humanities at SAS, said: “Our aim is to make cutting-edge research in the humanities approachable, engaging and – most of all – fun, for the broadest possible audience. 

“The Being Human festival is, in fact, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities. We have over 250 events this year in more than 50 towns and cities across the United Kingdom – 73 universities and research organisations are involved this year, as well as cultural and community groups."

Professor Churchwell singled out the six festival hubs – mini-festivals in their own right – for special thanks, namely the Universities of Dundee, Exeter, Newcastle, Nottingham, Swansea and Queen Mary University of London.

Supported by funding from the University of London’s Leading Women campaign, a 30-minute cabaret-style performance featuring a selection of activities from the programme was engagingly emceed by Dr Naomi Paxton, Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, and an Associate Fellow of SAS. This commenced with a presentation by Professor Carenza Lewis from the University of Lincoln, Really? A Dig on a Council Estate, which showcased the surprising discoveries made during the excavation of a post-war council estate. 

Folk musicians performing at the launch of Being Human 2018
Guests moved between interactive stalls which offered a tiny slice of the huge array of activities taking place over the next 10 days.

The strains of English folk music, performed on fiddle, accordion and concertina, filled the Crush Hall courtesy of performers from The Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading, as guests moved between interactive stalls which offered a tiny slice of the huge array of activities taking place over the next 10 days.

Organised by SOAS, University of London, the fascinating Living Zoroastrianism stall allowed participants to view a 3,000-year-old Yasna ritual (originating in ancient pre-Islamic Iran) via an immersive VR experience, filmed in Mumbai last year with spherical video technology.

“We are translating parts of the Yasna from the manuscripts,” SOAS’s Dr Martina Palladino said. “For example, I’m working on the Sanskrit translation. At the Brunei Gallery, as well as the Virtual Reality experience you will also see some ritual objects and clothes. It’s very interesting, even for me – I’ve studied these things, but seeing it is another matter.”

Building on research into the Proust Phenomenon, which suggests that odours can evoke powerful memories of past events, Snidge Scrumpin’: Mapping Smell and Memory (University of Wolverhampton) mapped the specific smells that belong to the Black Country and demonstrated the importance of smell and taste for our sense of regional history. 

Organised by Queen Mary University of London, The Last of the London was very much in keeping with this year’s theme of 'Origins and Endings', as QMUL’s Dr Nadia Valman explained:

“Our event involves projections on to the old Royal London Hospital building in Whitechapel Road, which is now empty and awaiting transformation into the new Tower Hamlets Council Town Hall. The building, that was once very imposing and powerful, is now in a state of decay. We’re projecting photographs of people on to the building in giant form – quite obscure, ordinary people as well as some famous people – who worked at, or were treated at, the hospital.”

Weaving Women's Stories stall at launch of Being Human 2018
Being Human draws together the three major bodies dedicated to supporting and promoting humanities research in the UK and internationally.

Dr Emma Bridges, Public Engagement Fellow at the Institute of Classical Studies, noted that Weaving Womens’ Stories (School of Advanced Study, University of London) “explores the connections between storytelling and textile-making in women’s lives, both in the ancient world – particularly in ancient poetry and archaeology – but also how that relates to contemporary women’s lives: craft as protest, and craft as storytelling.

"We’ve got a range of activities happening including a performance where people retell the stories of some of the women who feature in ancient mythology, a workshop run by an award-winning weaver, and some family craft activities.” 

Led by the School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, in partnership with the Arts & Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, Being Human draws together the three major bodies dedicated to supporting and promoting humanities research in the UK and internationally.

As well as the hundreds of free activities across the UK, this year’s edition sees exciting new collaborations with Princeton and Melbourne Universities, plus international events in Singapore, Paris and Rome.