Being Human 2020: New Worlds

Being Human 2020: New Worlds

Being Human festival 2020: New Worlds

The theme for the seventh annual Being Human festival is ‘New Worlds’. Want to know more about the theme, and how it might help you to get involved this year? Read on!

Who knew that our ‘New Worlds’ theme for this year’s festival would end up being so topical? We are all living in, and planning for, a world that seems quite different from the one that we were in at the start of the year… Now more than ever we need ideas about how innovative humanities research can lead us forward during unprecedented global challenges, and creative new ways to share them!

What new world do you want?

As we reach the milestone of 2020, often used in science fiction as a setting for imagined futures, we might be asking ‘what happened to the future we were promised?’; ‘what new futures can we, and should we, imagine?’

Entering a new decade also offers an opportunity to think about the types of ‘new world’ that we want to inhabit. Critical global issues such as the coronavirus pandemic, the climate emergency, migration, ageing populations, the rise of political populism, the fragmentation of long-held political identities, automation and changes to the world of work are likely to dominate the news agenda. 2020 is also a year in which rapid political change is taking place. The UK has left the European Union whilst the United States is preparing for a presidential election (to be held just before our festival, in November).

This year also marks 400 years since the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts – transporting English pilgrims to the ‘New World’ and 250 years since Captain Cook arrived at Botany Bay, Australia. These major historical anniversaries invite us to reflect on human migration, exploration and colonialism.

What’s more, every festival is a chance to re-think the world and create a new one – even just for a short timeIf you could create a new world from scratch, what would it look like? What type of new world do you want? 

New worlds on the doorstep

Thinking locally, what ‘new worlds’ are there out there closer to home? Every town, city and village contains multiple communities and multiple worlds that might be more, or less, connected to places where humanities research happens. How can we bring these worlds together? How can they learn from one another? ‘New Worlds’ also conjures ideas about how discoveries, developments and research have changed the world around us, in both large and small ways.

All research opens up a ‘new world’ of some sort!

‘Illuminate Gainsborough’ part of Being Human festival 2019. Photo courtesy of West Lindsey District Council and Electric Egg.

Thinking about organising an activity for the 2020 festival?

Being Human festival aims to highlight the ways in which discoveries, developments and research in the humanities equip us with the ideas, narratives, perspectives and tools to address these challenges and to imagine and create new worlds.

The theme is there as a prompt and a guide to help draw together a very diverse national programme. It is primarily intended as a jumping off point to help researchers share their enthusiasm for research in the humanities. Here are a few ideas about how to incorporate this year’s theme…

  • New worlds in local or global contexts: discovery and exploration on either macro or micro levels
  • New worlds in fiction: sci-fi, fantasy, utopias and dystopias
  • What new worlds do we want? Thinking about the future in relation to the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, contemporary politics, global challenges
  • New worlds and old worlds – could looking back offer solutions for the future?
  • New worlds/ new horizons – for example, opening up new possibilities for disabled people, people affected by social exclusion and stigma, opening up access to education and resources
  • Discoveries and developments, events and landmarks that have changed our world

The call for applications is now live. Click here to find out more about the different ways to get involved in the UK’s only national festival of the humanities!


Being Human is the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, bringing cutting edge research to the public in every corner of the country. The 2020 festival will take place from 12-22 November.