Voices from the edge
By Dr Daisy Hay, Senior Lecturer in Archives and Material Culture and author
We spoke to the University of Exeter’s hub advocate about Exeter’s amazing programme Voices from the edge. From confronting the terror and humanity of war to encountering Otherness in storytelling, poetry and writing, Exeter’s hub will look over the edge of the realm of the everyday to see what makes us human.
You’ve agreed to act as an advocate for the University of Exeter’s Being Human festival programme this year. Why did you say yes?
It’s a real privilege to be part of Exeter’s hub for the Being Human festival. The programme is incredibly broad and exciting, and it showcases some of the brilliant work being done in the humanities here. All the researchers involved care deeply about communicating their ideas to as many people as possible, in a way that gets people thinking and talking outside the confines of the university itself, and it’s a pleasure for me to be able to champion their work.
There’s a very diverse programme of events at the University of Exeter this year. Do you have a favourite?
I’m particularly looking forward to Emma Loosley’s event at Exeter Cathedral, which promises to bring to life a story from which the news media often distances us. Jana Funke’s event on ‘Dangerous’ influences also presents academic research in a new way, and I’m eager to see such a creative presentation of research in action.
Do you believe that the humanities should be more public? How does this connect to your own work?
Yes, absolutely. I am a writer of creative non-fiction, and in all my work my aim is to tell a story that will touch and inspire as many people as possible. The foundations of the biographies I write lie in my academic practice, but the finished books come alive because I am inspired by the creative challenge of presenting complicated ideas in an accessible way. My own experience convinces me that the more that we in the humanities can spread our work outside the academy, the richer our work will be.
The theme at Exeter this year is Voices from the edge. How does this connect to your own work?
In my own work I’m particularly interested in telling the stories of people who have been overlooked by history, and whose lives have been relegated to the edges of other people’s narratives. The events at Exeter this year amplify this theme, showcasing overlooked voices and hidden stories.
Our festival theme this year is ‘hope and fear’ – what are your fears and hopes for the future of the humanities?
The humanities are under threat from a narrow-minded, utilitarian conception of value, in which something is only worth studying if it leads to a defined economic result. We do ourselves a disservice if we accept this model: instead we need to make the case again and again for the importance of teaching new generations to think and read and write, as well as for the value – in all senses of the word – of storytelling
Finally, there’s been a lot of fearfulness in 2016. Please tell us about one thing that makes you hopeful for the future.
We have fantastic students here at Exeter: they are committed, enthusiastic and thoughtful, and they are angry about the future we are handing them. In a few years it will be them shaping the future, and current indications suggest that they’ll make a better job of it than the current generation of leaders.
Daisy Hay is the author of Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron and Other Tangled Lives and Mr and Mrs Disraeli: A Strange Romance. She was awarded the British Academy’s Rose Mary Crawshay Prize for Young Romantics, and a Somerset Maugham Award for Mr and Mrs Disraeli. In 2014 she was a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker, and in 2016 she was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize. She is currently Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Archival Studies at the University of Exeter.