Being Human Festival

Being Human Festival

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The world’s greatest satirist, Jonathan Swift, turns 350 in November 2017. Lost amid a series of fantastical places, the narrator of his most famous work, Gulliver’s Travels, enthrals everyone he meets with his adeptness in lying – storytelling, in short. Through a series of hands-on activities and immersive events centred on tall tales in Dundee, the City of Discovery, Jonathan Swift at 350: Lost and Found engages with the extraordinary legacy of a writer who found wondrous and shocking perspectives on being human like no one else could.

The School of Humanities at the University of Dundee has received funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and The Wellcome Trust to retain its status as a national “hub” in the UK’s Being Human Festival of the Humanities, building on previous successes (“Mary Shelley’s Dundee: Frankenstein Begins” in 2015 and “H. G. Wells at 150: Hope and Fear” in 2016). Current project partners include the Centre for Anatomy & Human Identification (CAHID), Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, Dundee Comics Creative Space, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee Leisure & Culture, Dundee Science Centre, Ink Pot, The James Hutton Institute, The Scottish Centre for Excellence in Computer Games Education at Abertay University, Skeptics in the Pub, and Playing Small Parts, among others.

Project convener, Dr Daniel Cook (Senior Lecturer in English), said “Using Gulliver’s Travels and other works as common sources will help us to consider the relationship between the arts and the sciences in utterly unique ways”.

Giants and cannibals, disease and immortality, fame and failure, petty politics and international disputes, grisly comics and graphic adventures, pop-up books and children’s literature, empirical science and religious doubt, the history of cinema and animation: the study of Swift’s life and works fuels all of these topics, and much more.

Scheduled events include Telling Tall Tales, a live-streamed creative writing workshop for children aged 8-12, hosted by popular local actor Eddie Small. Dr Cook will be delivering this year’s Lunchtime Talk at the Dundee Literary Festival on the dubious history of “tall tales” (Rabelais, Swift, Mark Twain, George R. R. Martin, and more). Playing Small Parts will produce Gulliver! A Fantastical Pantomime, a highly irreverent and topical retelling of Gulliver’s Travels that will engage audience participation in the very best traditions of British pantomime – and more.

For the first time this year a student-led documentary team will be present at each event, giving new insights into creativity in action at the University and throughout the city. Hosted at the City Library, in association with Dundee Leisure & Culture, an exhibition of strange and unique editions of Gulliver’s Travels will be made available to the public for the first time – including beautifully illustrated French translations, Doctor Who spin-offs, and quirky abridgements by famous authors such as Enid Blyton. Alongside the exhibition the library will host various family friendly activities, such as read-along sessions and a “drop-in pop-up book surgery” with local experts – together we will make pop-up versions of your favourite novels!

Other scheduled activities include Gulliver! A Graphic Anthology, helmed by Professor Chris Murray and the Dundee Comics Creative Space team. Watch as we create before your very eyes an anthology of short strips, some of which will be commissioned from award-winning local artists and the others selected from a public competition. Among other things, this project will give everyone – artists and the general public alike – an ideal opportunity to revisit techniques used in early cinema, such as photo-realism and the use of technicolour. A tie-in animation competition will be running throughout the festival. The Dundee Contemporary Arts cinema will also bring back to the big screen The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960), an influential retelling of Swift’s most famous work, with an introductory talk to be delivered by Dr Keith Williams (Reader in English) on the history of trick films from 1900 to the present. What techniques did cinematographers use to visualise the incomprehensible on screen? What might a 21st-century Gulliver’s Travels look like?

A “take-over” family day at the Dundee Science Centre, called Gulliver’s Worlds, will feature talks and demonstrations themed around the minutiae of the natural world. Marvel at the invention of the microscope and its impact on human perception; explore the human body on scales like never before; gaze in wonder at the delights of all creatures great and small.

A unique pop-up expo of outrageous thought experiments brought to life, The Imaginarium: A Fantastical Showcase for the Arts and Sciences,will bring together staff and students from across the whole University, along with representatives from research centres and businesses across the region. As Swift asks in his savage parody of university life: What are the benefits of building a house from the roof down? How does one extract a sunbeam from a cucumber exactly? And how useful is an examination of someone’s faeces as an indicator of their criminal intent?

In addition to talks by Dame Sue Black, Dr Dominic Smith, Dr Williams and others, we will host a “pop up” green-screen studio for public use. There will also be a screening of last year’s Martin Autopsy.

To learn more about how to get involved, whether as an individual or on behalf of a local organisation, please contact the Being Human Dundee team ( and follow them on Twitter (@HumanDundee). Thanks to the support of the funding bodies all of the events will be FREE. Ticket information will be released on the University Events page at the start of October.

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