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Being Human festival 2020 round up


The annual Being Human festival drew to a close last week following 11 days of free, public events and activities held across the UK and beyond.

Being Human logo inside a pair of headphones

Being Human is the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and this year researchers and staff from 80 universities and research organisations across the country successfully presented over 260 free, public events and activities inspired by this year’s theme of ‘new worlds’ and all exploring fascinating humanities research. 

The majority of events took place online this year, but were still very much rooted in their local communities and contexts, with festival events taking place from 54 different towns and cities across the country exploring everything from Black Country dialect to the history of the humble charity shop.



Festival launch

The festival opened with a special online launch event with festival patron Professor David Olusoga in conversation with Being Human director Professor Sarah Churchwell. The discussion spanned “rewriting” and reimagining history, diversity and inclusivity and reflections on public history and the value of the humanities in a true era of ‘new worlds’. Watch a recording of the launch event here. 

A short film was also produced for the launch of the festival, highlighting a few of the projects taking place across the country, and set to the wonderful worlds of Keith Jarrett, a London-based poet. 


Event highlights


Despite the challenges posed by a largely online and digital festival, there were still lots of creative and innovative ways to get involved at home, including a ‘theatre-by-post’ project as part of The University of Sheffield’s festival hub programme, and several hands-on workshops including ‘Making Medieval Ink’ with Sara Charles from the Institute of English Studies.

‘Making Medieval Ink’ with Sara Charles, from the Institute of English Studies.

Making Medieval Ink
‘The Peoples Palace of Possibility’ – a theatre-by-post project led by Sheffield-based theatre company ‘The Bare Project’ and Th

‘The Peoples Palace of Possibility’ – a theatre-by-post project led by Sheffield-based theatre company ‘The Bare Project’ and The University of Sheffield.

Other events and activities ranged from ‘Being Human Cafes’ (small, interactive, community focussed events) to virtual museum lates, performances, online exhibitions, talks and virtual tours. 

Senate House Library contributed a series of ‘café’ events and two events drawing on their Terry Pratchett archives in collaboration with Institute of English Studies. ‘Magical Mind: The World of Terry Pratchett’ brought together an all-star line-up of Neil Gaiman, Rhianna Pratchett and Rob Wilkins to discuss the life, stories and legacies of one of the world’s most loved authors. You can catch up on the recording here: 

Magical Mind: The World of Terry Pratchett with Senate House Library online event.

As featured on BBC Sunday Morning Live on Sunday 15 November, Professor Barry Smith (Director of the Institute of Philosophy) led a fascinating event looking at the importance of smell in our everyday lives. Special guests Chrissi Kelly (from AbScent, the UK’s charity for people with smell loss) and Dr Ann-Sophie Barwich from Indiana University Bloomington (USA) joined him for the discussion and some fun at-home experiments! Grab something from the spice rack, a citrus fruit and some jelly beans and watch the recording here.


Thank you

Professor Barry Smith and Dr Yasmine Shamma on the set of BBC Sunday Morning Live.

Professor Barry Smith and Dr Yasmine Shamma on the set of BBC Sunday Morning Live. 

Huge thanks go out to all involved in this year's festival – despite the unpredictable circumstances, the ever-changing restrictions and all of the challenges, thousands of people came together (albeit virtually!) to celebrate and champion the humanities for another year. A big thanks also goes out to festival partners the Arts and Humanities Research Council and The British Academy, for their ongoing support.

We hope this year's festival has inspired some ideas for shaping and understanding our new world – for tackling some of the crises and challenges around us, for offering worlds of solace, creativity and escapism, and for ways of understanding being human and our shared humanity. We hope to see you again next year!