The humanities are all around us – in the books and newspapers we read, the programmes, the plays and the films we watch, the concerts we listen to, the exhibitions we visit, and so much more. They are there less obviously but equally pervasively in other ways – in our shared history, our heritage sites, the design of things we see and use, and the built environments we live in. They shape our perception and understanding of the natural world and we might even say that they shape us as individuals and as part of communities. The human world is after all the very stuff of the humanities and we live and breathe their preoccupations in countless and often unacknowledged ways.
That ubiquity is their strength. But it can, when we come to assess their value and importance for example, also render them invisible. If the humanities are all around us, how do we mark and identify their contribution to our lives? Equally if there’s something all-pervading about them, how do we celebrate what they bring distinctively to our understanding of ourselves?
The Festival of the Humanities provides us all with an opportunity to do precisely these things: to recognise and to celebrate the place of the humanities in our lives.
One of the most striking aspects of the exciting projects being funded through the Being Human Festival is, it seems to me, their linkage to place. Whether it be the history of dissent in Nottingham, the role of the sea in Southampton, the place of the archive in Norwich or crime and punishment in rural Somerset, many of the projects offer us an opportunity to look at familiar or not so familiar places in illuminating and extraordinary ways. They will say something about the world, about us, and about the challenges that face us all as individuals and as a society. This is the humanities at their very best and the festival will, we hope, bring this to us in new and innovative ways, stopping us short and reminding us to look again at our human world and the place of the humanities in it.
Professor Rick Rylance is the AHRC Chief Executive and Chair of RCUK Executive Group. For full details about the Being Human festival check out the website and Twitter account @BeingHumanFest.