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Working in collaboration: the ‘Being Human’ Festival

ordered-universeRoutledge is sponsoring this year’s Being Human festival – the UK’s only national festival of the humanities. Starting on 17 November, the eight-day event features over 250 activities in 45 towns and cities across the UK, all centred around the theme of ‘Hope and Fear’.

The festival encourages engagement in humanities research, making it accessible to different audiences via a programme of free events, led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London and in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy.

In this post, three of the contributors to this year’s festival, Dr Giles Gasper, Professor Tom McLeish (Durham University) and Professor Hannah Smithson (University of Oxford), share their experiences of collaborative research, through their Ordered Universe Research Project.

Introducing Ordered Universe

One of the key advantages of the upcoming Being Human Festival (17-25 November) is that it showcases the possibilities of interdisciplinary research.  As a group of researchers from a range of disciplines, we wanted to share our experience of collaborative research through our ‘Ordered Universe’ Research Project.

Ordered Universe, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (2015-2019), focuses on the scientific writings of medieval thinker Robert Grosseteste (c.1170-1253). His works focus on various natural phenomena – such as colour, light and the elements – and offer a great opportunity for scholarly investigation.

The way forward: working across disciplines

As we have found, this is especially true in an interdisciplinary context. Ordered Universe has, from an early point in the project, adopted a system of collaborative reading; meeting together to explore in detail one of Grosseteste’s treaties. This method has yielded rich insights into the natural phenomena, and has produced a wider, more unpredictable, range of insights than those of a single discipline. So, for example, by using the expertise of modern cosmologists, we modelled Grosseteste’s idea of the universe to create a medieval multiverse, and a wonderful piece of imaginative analysis. The medieval text came to life in ways that might not have been possible by Humanities scholars alone.

The opportunities that emerge from our collaborative research develop constantly. We have helped, for instance, to stimulate modern science, with papers in leading journals. Thirteenth-century theories of colour, the rainbow, and sound have all inspired new scientific thinking.

Through academia and beyond: sharing our findings

The Being Human Festival offers the perfect platform to share our experience of Ordered Universe. A key aim of the project is to encourage a public discourse about the place of science in culture, and about the understanding of science as culture, something ingrained and intrinsically human. Through our two events we hope to do exactly that with a wider range of people.

On 18th November, we have a public lecture on medieval time-reckoning in Durham Cathedral, its medieval architects manifesting a vision of the ordered universe in stone and glass.

Then, on 19th November, we host an interactive exhibition showing the wider landscape of research and creative arts connected to the project, exploring medieval scientific experiments, a tour through galaxy modelling and the limitations of human sight. The events will share our hope and trust in this research, its importance to Being Human, how to work together in the present, and with our predecessors in the past. We have found this to be a promising foundation for shaping new discoveries in a range of disciplines. Some achievement for such a mixed group of academics!


Want to learn more? Read Routledge’s specially created ‘Hope & Fear’ collection. The full programme for Being Human 2016 is available online at www.beinghumanfestival.org and you can follow the festival on Twitter via @BeingHumanFest and #BeingHuman16.