Sustaining Narratives – Journeys in Place and Time: Exeter Hub

Sustaining Narratives – Journeys in Place and Time: Exeter Hub

Sustaining Narratives – Journeys in Place and Time: Exeter Hub

By Sanja Djerasimovic, Impact Research Fellow at the University of Exeter

In this post, Sanja takes us through the wide range of events happening at our festival hub in Exeter. From sustainable eating to LGBTQ+ activism, take a tour of Exeter’s programme for Being Human 2018!

On entering the valley of the river Exe here at the edge of the British Isles, a visitor, a stranger, such as I was myself three years ago, could be forgiven for expecting but a gentle stroll through the green, a gentle lesson in history, a slow pleasure of the famous cream tea in between. Indeed, even now, it is sometimes difficult to appreciate, standing atop Exeter’s harmonious postcard-pretty Devonian landscape, the cathedral tower cutting through the canopies, the estuary snaking in the distance, how many layers of existence, how many different stories, conflicts, struggles, and victories, have gone into building this place. But having picked at its surface over the last few years, together with the academic colleagues at the University’s College of Humanities, and the many humans weaving the history and present of Exeter, I am very excited at the chance to plunge into an exploration and celebration of our journey(s) as one of the Being Human festival hubs.

Spurred on by the enriching and exhilarating (ok, at times exhausting) experience of participating in the festival in the last three years – and the pride of acting as a hub in 2016 – we started planning our selection for this year. The five disciplines and at least twice as many (the numbers are still rising!) researchers taking part all offered a compelling – some ideational, some material and embodied – interpretation of the festival theme.

From the archaeology and history of places, animals, and people; to their, sometimes final, destination in human rituals and follies; to the origin of identities, emotions, and ideas, we all converged on telling the stories of journeying in space and time, uncovering beginnings, revisiting stations along the way, and learning from conclusions.

This year our events are building on the unique history and geography of Exeter and its surroundings. We open up with a debate on history of LGBTQ+ and feminist activism, through a discussion and performance of a play originating in suffrage movement’s period of rising militancy that featured Exeter-born lesbian and genderqueer author Christopher St John. From the historical journey of people and ideas, we move, over the weekend, to explore the narrative of our soil, plants, and animals. With the classicist Katharine Earnshaw and her partners, an artist interested in the making of place, and a farmer interested in growing things from a place; we go on to experience and discuss artwork created this summer at the Quicke’s farm on the outskirts of town building on the reading of Virgil – and enjoy some award-winning cheese! Meanwhile, Exeter’s Archaeology Department will take over the Royal Albert Memorial Museum’s collections and invite visitors of all ages to explore both the history of the city, and the history of animals with whom we share our lives – as well as those now extinct. For those interested in the connections between animal life (and death), the history and literature surrounding meat trade, and its impact on the environment, head over to Exeter Cookery School to learn more, as well as get some hands-on experience in sustainable, ethical eating.

First-hand experience of journeys will be narrated and exchanged at the Exeter Central Library, where throughout the weekend, members of Exeter’s immigrant communities will be invited to share the stories of their origin in their native tongue, translated by students, staff, and friends of the Department of Modern Languages, and made into a film to be shown early next year. Among many festival events exploring the town’s and region’s history, this one will offer a chance to its inhabitants, whether arrived here by birth or boat, to share its present.

Finally, on what is likely to be a grey late-November Sunday morning, Sarah-Jayne Ainsworth and Michelle Webb, PhD researchers at the Departments of English and History, will take the courageous and the curious on a walk around the city in search of its factual and fictitious deaths. Expect witches and saints carrying their own severed heads, then warm up with a cup of tea in one of town’s churches.

These are our highlights, but expect more as we plan our launch party, involve students and junior researchers in various fun activities across town, and bring our neighbours together in delving into the narratives we build and those that build and sustain us.


‘Soil, plants, animals, objects, stories, identities: join us on a journey in space and time to discover what sustains us and makes us human!’  For details of all the events in Exeter’s programme, click here.