From the art of kiln firing and exploring Egyptian coffins to Aztec food science and an exhibition delving into the artistic, sociological and linguistic aspects of biological research into human tissues, events being held by Cambridge as part of Being Human Festival 2023 are a celebration for the humanities.

Taking place from 9-18 November 2023, Being Human is the UK’s national festival of the humanities. A celebration of humanities research through public engagement, it is led by the School of Advanced Study at the University of London, and works in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy to support humanities public engagement across the UK.

The theme for 2023 is Rhyme or Reason and researchers to think about rhyme or reason, or rhyme and reason, in relation to their research, and to key anniversaries in 2023.

Events taking place at the University of Cambridge are:

Building a Potter's Kiln (11 November 2023, 12pm-4pm)

Interested in pottery and traditional crafts? Come and witness kiln-building in action at the Fitzwilliam Museum. Led by renown ceramicist and scholar Dr Abbas Akbari (University of Kashan), a group of volunteers will build a wood-fired pottery kiln on the Museum’s North Lawn, which will be fired in a series of public events over the course of the following week.

Learn from researchers about medieval Iranian ceramics and visit the Fitzwilliam's outstanding Islamic collection. Drop-in event, no booking required. Please note that this event is weather-dependent.

Shine! Painting in Lustre (12 November 2023, 2pm-4pm)

Join renowned ceramicist and scholar Dr Abbas Akbari (University of Kashan) in a small-group workshop on decorating ceramics with metallic, lustre paints following medieval Iranian designs. In the following week, you will be able to witness the firing of your ceramic artwork during a series of public events at the Museum.

Lustre Firing at the Fitz (14/16 November 2023, 11am-2pm, 15 November 2023, 2pm-4pm, 17 November 2023, 11am-1pm)

Interested in pottery and traditional crafts? Witness the firing of lustre-painted ceramics in a traditional brick kiln on the Fitzwilliam Museum's lawn. Led by renowned ceramicist and scholar Dr Abbas Akbari (University of Kashan), this event is part of a week of activities inspired by Medieval Iranian ceramics.

Learn from researchers about our latest discoveries and visit the Museum's outstanding Islamic art collection. This event is drop-in with no booking required. Please note that this event is weather-dependent.

Frenemy (My Algorithm and Me) (18 November 2023, 10am-4pm) EVENT CANCELLED

Frenemy (My Algorithm and Me) is a short film made by Josh Vyrtz, an experimental artist film-maker, and Isabelle Higgins, a sociologist at the University of Cambridge.

The film explores the impact of social media algorithms on young people’s everyday lives, providing fresh perspectives on social media inequalities. Come and watch the film throughout the day (10:00-17:00) and discuss the idea of ‘algorithmic self-defence’ with its creators. Or join a one-hour interactive screening (16:00-17:00) with a panel of experts, which will challenge attendees to reclaim power and autonomy over their social media use.

Children (over 8 years old) and young people are very welcome to attend.

The Newspaper Dance (18 November 2023, 11:30am-12:30pm)

This dance theatre work responds to the question of how Indian classical dance replicates social and religious hierarchies in its practice and performance. The performance attempts to bridge the gap between research and practice, and uses dance-theatre to embody the questions my research raises.

Exploring Ancient Egyptian Coffins (18 November 2023, 10:30am-5:30pm)

Come along to discover research from the Fitzwilliam Museum Coffins' Project, including investigations into the making and meaning of Egyptian coffins, and the complex questions posed by ancient reuse of them.

There'll be table-top displays of real objects and materials to discuss, and hands-on activities using replica ancient woodworking tools and making and using rush pens and brushes to try out Egyptian painting techniques. Activities will be suitable for all ages.

The event is run in collaboration with Egyptology at Christ's College, Cambridge and the Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge and is supported by the Leverhulme Trust Emeritus Fellowship scheme.

The Power and the Limits of ‘Voice’ (18 November 2023, 1pm-2pm)

As part of this year's Being Human Festival, Dr Kelly Fagan Robinson from the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge gives everyone the opportunity to tell their stories about things that matter to them as individuals in ways they may not have encountered before. By taking part, each person will be contributing to a pilot research skills programme which teaches people to use ethnographic methods to shape their stories in more legible ways.

This activity will:

Introduce everyone taking part to anthropology (the study of what it is to be human) and introduce each participant to a creative autoethnographic method

Start conversations about values, inequalities and potential for transformation in the world around us

Use images, collage, photos and story-telling to create unique self-life-maps that tell the stories of who each of us are!

This activity is aimed at children and families and curious primary and secondary school teachers! This is a drop-in activity and booking is not required.

Their Future, Our Action: Being Human Is Powerful (18 November 2023, 2:30pm-3:30pm)

The Centre for Resilience and Sustainable Development (CRSD) at the University of Cambridge aims to cultivate sustainable, equitable, and resilient futures by bringing together a wide range of people, as diverse as heads of state to school children, to create solutions to the world's most complex challenges.

This workshop, open to young people and adults, will explore how different groups can work together to design a successful finance project for young people living in small developing countries. 

Shaping Memories with Seeds: Aztec Food Science and Edible Archives (18 November 2023, 10:30am-3:30pm)

Come along and explore the edible-arts of Mexico! Discover the importance of Indigenous sciences, art, linguistics and sustainable food technologies, whilst learning to shape and be shaped by Mexico’s distinct cultural traditions.

You'll be introduced to the food history of Mexico’s Nahuas (commonly the ‘Aztecs’), namely the material traditions associated with amaranth plants, seeds and seed dough. Amaranth seed dough was (and still is) inextricably linked to the dynamic ethnic and religious makeup of Mexico.

This fun, hands-on activity will include designing and decorating an edible mnemonic device based on leading research on Mesoamerican learning techniques, archaeology and art history.

This is a family-friendly event, particularly aimed at young, school-age children.

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