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Being Human festival 2019: Discoveries & Secrets | 14-23 November


What’s the point of the humanities anyway? Being Human, the UK’s national festival of the humanities is back to show how wherever you live in the UK, you are not far away from someone who can give you a good answer to this question.

Every year Being Human sets UK researchers from across the humanities - from subjects including archaeology, classics, history, languages, literature, and philosophy - the challenge of making their research interesting and relevant to the lives of the people and communities near to them. The results are often surprising.

Run by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, the festival’s rules are simple: get creative, get off campus, get out of your bubble, and don’t preach to the choir.

Rather than relying on the same big name speakers to do the talking, Being Human works on a more human level. Working from the ground up, the festival shines a light on the usually invisible research that usually happens behind closed doors in universities, museums, libraries and archives across the country. 

This year the festival features over 250 events at locations stretching from Orkney Library to Margate Caves. Nearly all events are free and none cost more than £5 to attend. Perhaps more importantly, all of them have been designed to get academic experts out of their comfort zones and get them talking and interacting with different and diverse communities.

Events are taking place in towns, cities, villages and rural locations. There is even a spin off international programme of activities happening in Melbourne, Rome, the USA and Transylvania.

The festival’s 2019 theme is ‘Discoveries & Secrets’ and has inspired unusual events exploring untold stories, hidden histories and some of the secrets of our towns and cities. Activities range from the topical to the ‘out there’ and they are all thought provoking, entertaining and enriching. The festival events all highlight how this research can shape our perspectives and ideas about the past and the future and reflect on what it means to be human. 

Some programme highlights this year include:

  • Fern Crazy, Liverpool – Long before the ‘wellness’ industry, the Victorian’s believed that gardening had social and health benefits. Exploring the fern craze of the 19th century, this event ponders what we might be able to learn today from those who tried to bring greenery to the slums of Britain.
  • (Beat Making the North African Cool!, London – Rap and hip hop is big news in the Middle East and North Africa, and played a major role in the protests of the Arab spring in 2011. Drawing on the skills of Moroccan rapper Dizzy DROS, this ‘beat making workshop’ shows how everyday creativity is speaking truth to power in societies where freedom of speech is at its lowest.
  • Black Country Unscene, Wolverhampton – The Black Country is arguably one of the most overlooked regions in the country. This event invites people to take a closer look (and listen, and… sniff) taking them on a multisensory walk through a landscape of canals, curry houses, industry. Stops along the way will feature poetry pop music and some real life canal boat dragging.
  • The Aquatic City, Dundee – In a series of events themed around the dark and eerie river Tay, researchers in Dundee are inviting the public to help them in a thought experiment that involves raising a fictional ‘Scottish Atlantis’  from the waters. The programme is anchored in a ‘Well of Ideas’ hub in Wellgate Shopping Centre, open throughout the festival.
  • Assassinations Past and Present, Swansea – From poisoned toothpaste to drone attacks, assassination has long been the ultimate way of disposing of political opponents. This event invites people to delve into a murky world of intrigue and political score settling that’s both weirder and more topical than we might like to think.
  • Made Up: Women’s Health and Beauty Past and Present, Essex - This series of events in Colchester invites people to explore past and present beauty secrets and how women have used hair and make-up to express themselves, encouraging visitors to reflect on the diversity of women’s beauty experiences.
  • England’s Histories Unboxed!, London - To celebrate 120 years of the ‘Victoria County History’ project communities across England have been filling special red boxes with objects which represent their local history in surprising or quirky ways. Visitors will be invited to join the un-boxing party which will include an exhibition, object handling, 3D printing and a panel discussion.

The Being Human festival takes place in multiple locations across the UK between 14-13 November, alongside parallel activities across the globe. Most events are free but booking is required via the festival website:

Find out more about the Being Human event.