Humanities in public: Manchester stays forever young
In this guest post Manchester Metropolitan University’s Helen Malarky, Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Science Project Manager for Research and Impact and Professor Berthold Schoene, Associate Dean for Humanities and Social Science Research, reflect on their ‘Humanities in Public’ initiative and its programming for Being Human 2014. Forever Young explores eight decades of Manchester’s youth culture through the eyes of those who were there, presented by Hacienda DJ turned cultural historian Dave Haslam.
Forever Young, which will feature as an integral part of the UK’s first Being Human Festival, finds its origin in MMU’s ‘Humanities in Public’ (HiP) programme. HiP started life as a year-long public engagement initiative designed to showcase the research we do here at MMU in the humanities with the aim of increasing our external visibility, creating a lively media presence and widening participation by appealing to everyone, including people with no prior higher education contact or experience. From the outset our main aim was to open up the University by meeting the public halfway, which at times meant literally off-campus. In 2013/14 – its first year – HiP ran about 50 events, including city walks, pub quizzes, guided tours and themed fairs, as well as poetry readings and political debates, attracting over 3,000 visitors.
Forever Young: uniting generations
Forever Young forms part of the ‘Contesting Youth’ strand of the HiP programme. Convened by researchers from MMU’s Manchester Centre for Youth Studies (MCYS), it is a project designed to unite Mancunians across generational divides by inviting them to talk about their experiences of being young throughout the past 80 years. Their recollections will be filmed and shown on the internet and at a live event, where the participants will also take part in a public discussion. We will be interviewing eight people who were in their teens in (respectively) the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and now. Forever Young intends to challenge youth stereotypes and enhance public understanding of the real-life, everyday value of humanities and social science research. Young participants engaged with the project will learn about the elderly and come to appreciate the histories of our shared leisure passions, such as music, fashion and sports. Similarly, older participants will develop a better understanding of the young. Forever Young is a project where the humanities meet humanity, where academic expertise and everyday experience come to overlap, where research can be observed ‘live’ and in action, where knowledge finds itself under open reconstruction.
The humanities ask questions about society, history, communication, relationships, thought, culture and creativity – all things that make the world go around, sometimes in unison, sometimes in competition with that other proverbial globe-spinner. As we discovered very quickly, the great challenge facing the humanities in the twenty-first century was quite simply this: to raise public awareness of what we actually did and why it mattered. This is precisely where HiP came to play its part. We needed to ensure that what we had to say, and how we said it, was captivating and relevant. At the same time, we didn’t want our public engagement efforts to be seen as a way of ‘saving’ the humanities. As far as we were concerned, the humanities did not need saving. They already had what it took. They wouldn’t need a special re-popularising campaign. After all, weren’t the humanities concerned with the life of the public, with society, by definition?
A festival of the humanities
Unsurprisingly, HiP met with a huge surge of interest from the Manchester public. We seemed to have hit a genuine public need for intellectual debate and encounter. Our efforts to make it a genuine festival of the humanities, with an emphasis on the excitement and exhilaration that ought to accompany all lifelong learning, paid off as well. In 2013/14 HiP comprised five thematic strands, including ‘Contemporary Gothic’, ‘Global Society’, ‘Women in Philosophy’, ‘Body Images’ and ‘Sensing Place’. For 2014/15 we’re planning to run five more, equally tied to the research specialisms of our researchers: ‘Animal Worlds’, ‘Contesting Youth’, ‘Human Trouble: Dis/Ability’, ‘Multilingual Life’ and ‘Future Histories’.
Forever Young is a project that allows us to do all the things we set out to do when we originally initiated HiP, namely to break down barriers and enable the humanities to touch base, and to rediscover and fulfil their purpose. Our common humanity is no longer a detached, abstract object under investigation; rather, it asserts itself as a vivacious and vociferous co-producer of knowledge that is indeed forever young.
Helen Malarky is Creative Programme Coordinator for ‘Humanities in Public’ at Manchester Metropolitan University. Professor Berthold Schoene, Associate Dean for Humanities and Social Science Research at the same institution.
‘Forever Young’ is just one example of the programme of public engagement events being planned for Being Human 2014 across the country. For updates on the emerging programme follow us on Twitter @BeingHumanFest, and on Pinterest. Don’t forget to sign up to our e-newsletter, too!