Researchers and public explore what it means to be human for inaugural Humanities Festival

Issue date: 14 May 2014


UWE Bristol is hosting an event to participate in Being Human, the UK's first national festival of the humanities, which melds together original historical research, poetry and experimental sound to make unique public performances on the sites of two eighteenth century crime-scene executions in Somerset and Wiltshire. The event is made possible by a grant from the festival organisers, the School of Advanced Study, University of London, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy.

Following a successful application, UWE Bristol has been awarded funding to hold the event during Being Human festival week, 15 – 23 November 2014. 'Romancing the Gibbet: Public punishment and local memory in the Georgian west country' will champion the excellence of humanities research being undertaken in the South-West and help to demonstrate the vitality and relevance of this today.

Selected from over 100 applications, the grant will help the university bring together researchers and the local public to engage with their own interpretation of the humanities. 'Romancing the Gibbet: Public punishment and local memory in the Georgian west country' will be part of a national programme of activities which aim to inform, extend and ignite contemporary thinking and imagination around the humanities.

Steve Poole, Professor of History and Heritage and Director of Regional History Centre, UWE Bristol, said, “I'm extremely pleased to have been awarded a grant to stage this event at the inaugural Being Human .For the performances we've chosen two historic sites, Walford's Gibbet above Nether Stowey, and Arn Hill above Warminster, where one-off executions for murder were carried out in 1789 and 1813 respectively. The hanging and gibbeting of felons at the scene of their crime was occasionally resorted to in an effort to bring the full majesty of the Hanoverian bloody code to relatively remote rural areas. They were elaborate processional occasions and designed to create a lasting impact in disorderly parishes.

“We're interested not only in what the archival record can tell us, but in the accumulated community knowledge of events like these, whether preserved in field names, street signage or just passed-down stories. Our two in situ performances will use creative word and sound to interpret both scholarly research and collective community memory.

“I've been working on law and order in Hanoverian England in conventional academic ways for several years, but never really had an opportunity to do something as experimental and collaborative as this. I'm looking forward to working with sculptor/sound designer Michael Fairfax and poet Ralph Hoyte to reach new audiences while strengthening the connections between humanities research and the visual and performing arts - and this award has now made that possible.”

Currently in its first year, Being Human is led by the School of Advanced Study in participation with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy with the participation of arts and cultural organisations and universities across the UK.

The festival programme will focus on activities that make humanities research accessible to the general public and demonstrate the role of the humanities in the cultural, intellectual, political and social life of the UK.

Thirty-six grants have been awarded to universities and arts and cultural organisations across the UK to participate in the nine days of festival events taking place across the UK, from Truro to Orkney, Swansea to Belfast and Norwich to Liverpool.

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