How to ‘Be Human’

The School of Advanced Study, University of London has announced a new flagship humanities festival, ‘Being Human’

The festival will run from 15 to 23 November and with events being staged from Orkney to Truro, Belfast to Swansea, and Norwich to Liverpool, the festival will provide a platform for celebrating the breadth and diversity of UK humanities research.

Led by the School of Advanced Study, the festival is the result of a collaboration with the British Academy and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

In attendance at the event were representatives of participating higher education institutions and cultural organisations across the UK. Attendees represented some of the over 100 university projects that applied for festival funding, as well as the 36 successful projects.

Dean of the School of Advanced Study, Professor Roger Kain said that the Being Human festival will aim to answer the question ‘Do people really understand what humanities are?’ The festival will “promote public understanding of, and public engagement with, the humanities,” he said.

In his address, Festival Director and Director of the School’s Institute of Philosophy, Professor Barry Smith spoke of the need for the humanities to catch up with the sciences in meaningful engagement with the public. “We need to show people the amount of exciting, accessible and relevant work in the humanities that is going on up and down the UK – work that we can all benefit from. We want to increase public engagement so that more people can benefit from the research… The Being Human festival will encourage researchers to tell their stories, showcase their research and demonstrate exactly what they do in a way that is maximally accessible and relevant to people’s lives”.

Dr Robin Jackson, British Academy Chief Executive and Secretary said: “It’s often forgotten that UK research in the humanities is world-leading – some would say it’s our strongest disciplinary area of all. It will be good to see some of the contemporary thinking and imagination which is often highly inter-disciplinary. The festival will, as do the humanities themselves… inform, deepen understanding and challenge us. As Aristotle said in the opening sentence of the Metaphysics: “All humans by nature desire to know” and one might add: “to know about ourselves – to understand our stories, our histories, our cultures, our relationships, our capacities, our limits”’. Humanity is diverse, complex and rich and I’m sure that this festival will be all of those things too. Let us celebrate the contributions that the humanities make, but let’s also celebrate the simple joys of thinking, of learning and of understanding.”

Dr Ian Lyne, Associate Director of Programmes at the Arts and Humanities Research Council, said: “The world of the humanities is all around us, it’s in the films we watch, the books we read, the way we speak, in what we wear and what we eat. But I think that very ubiquity can make the humanities disciplines, in some sense, invisible if we’re not careful.”

A festival, he said, “enables people to step out of their daily concerns… not into a different world, but into a space which allows people to have a different sense of who they are in different ways, and I’m sure that the public we’ll engage within the different events we’re funding through this festival will have just that sort of experience.”

Applications will be accepted until 20 June from universities or other organisations wishing to host a humanities-based event as part of the festival. Find out more at and join the Twitter debate at @BeingHumanFest and #BeingHuman14


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