November 27, 2019

Events at Being Human Festival Venture Beyond Talks and Lectures

By Anne Levin

Last year, Princeton was the first University in the United States to host Being Human, an international festival of the humanities based in the U.K. The month-long series of workshops, interactive exhibits, panels, and performances was so well received by the local community that it has been brought back this fall, in a longer and more comprehensive version.

The festival has been underway since October. Faculty, students, and staff at the University have been collaborating with organizations throughout town and beyond including the Princeton Public Library, the Arts Council of Princeton, D&R Greenway Land Trust, and the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility. Events continue through December 18 (visit for a full schedule).

“This year, we have more than tripled our events, and it is incredibly exciting,” said Executive Director Kathleen Crown. “There was just so much interest last year. We realized we had struck a chord, so we committed more resources.”

Upcoming events include “Queer Letters,” a workshop and interactive exhibit at Princeton Public Library on December 3; “Literature and Environment,” a reading and creative writing colloquium at D&R Greenway on December 7; “Redesign Your Workplace: Space and Creativity,” a workshop and interactive exhibit at the Arts Council on December 12; and “The Art of Being Human: St. Cecelia Through Poetry and Film,” a screening, panel, and guided tour at the University, also on December 12.

The idea is to engage the community through events that go further than the presentation of a talk. “Our typical way of reaching people is through lectures. This is different,” said Crown. “These are micro-communities, smaller scale but intensive and engaged, in ways that are more than just showing up and listening to a talk. I think it was that hands-on, participatory quality that made the festival such a success last year.”

The students and faculty involved made an effort to share their work in a creative way that was fresh and inventive, Crown continued. “And it was sometimes designed in collaboration with the community,” she said. “So there were participatory methods of explaining the work, and showing its value and relevance.”

Crown credits the project coordinator, Ruby Shao, a University alumnus whose background is in humanities and journalism, with shaping this year’s festival. “She looked at all of the proposals that came in, and had conversations with those involved,” Crown said. “She helped think them through. The proposals were all really great, so it wasn’t hard to choose. It was really more of a question of looking for projects presenting the work of Princeton humanities researchers. We didn’t want to bring in speakers; rather we wanted all our faculty, students, and our staff to highlight and share their work.”

Crown is looking forward to the “Literature and Environment” event at D&R Greenway on December 7. “We’ll do some reading of poetry, talk about relationships between humans and the natural world, take a walk, and write some poems,” she said. She is also excited about the final event, “Illuminating Incarceration in Antiquity Through Digital Humanities,” a lecture and workshop at Princeton Public Library on December 18. It details the work done by students who traveled to Greece to explore the subject. “They used 3-D modeling and virtual reality, and created a way for those of us who can’t go to Greece to see these sights,” she said. “You can put on goggles and be there. They’ll talk about the work they’ve done in a hands-on way, where people can actually hold and touch what they’ve created.”

Some of the events are designed to bring new audiences to the University campus, but most take place off campus. “The real thrill last year was the Princeton Battlefield day, where families came from all over to learn about the archaeology,” Crown said. “We have a very diverse population participating in events, from young children to people from senior centers. These are events that are appealing across age groups and across walks of life.”