Hidden histories – how humanities research reveals the big picture


Piece of graphite

Lancaster University academics are inviting people to discover the secrets of one of the world’s most curious minerals at a hands-on exploration of graphite at Keswick Museum, in the heart of the Lake District.

They want people to learn about the region’s geological and industrial past and be inspired by the ideas of Victorian art critic and geologist John Ruskin.

Drawn from the Ground is part of the fascinating ‘Nature and Environment’ strand of the sixth annual Being Human festival that celebrates and shares humanities research across the UK (14–23 November).

You can register for the free event, organised by Lancaster University, on 16 November, 11am to 3pm, to secure your place.

Artists Dr Sarah Casey and Gerry Davies from the university’s Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts will lead the ‘hands-on’ exploration of graphite at Keswick Museum where you can learn about the special connection between graphite and the region’s geological and industrial past.

Following the ideas of Victorian art critic and geologist John Ruskin, they will use close-looking to reveal the mysterious qualities in graphite.

Participants will be able to compare natural graphite with its modern industrial counterparts, make their own pencils and use these to draw, following the easy steps of Ruskin’s guidance

This will accompany a presentation and interactive experiments, led by Dr Chris Donaldson from the Department of History, who will explore the properties of graphite that wowed early scientists, including electrifying drawings to light a bulb!

The Being Human festival is led by the School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, and is a partnership that includes the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy.

The theme for 2019 is ‘Discoveries and Secrets’ and the ‘nature and environment’ strand is one of five – the others are music, science and technology, history, and politics and protest.

‘Nature and environment’ is a rich strand for Being Human and many events in this year’s programme will reveal the ways in which humanities can help achieve a deeper understanding of our environment and the country’s diverse landscapes.

The festival brings together hundreds of academics and researchers to share their research and ideas with the public. They want to demonstrate the ways in which subjects such as history, classics, archaeology, literature, art history, philosophy and languages are relevant to society, culture and everyday life. 

Public engagement drives the programme, and more than 70 participating universities and cultural organisations are staging some 250 events, many of them showcasing collaborations with artists, writers, collectives and performers, across 54 UK towns and cities. 

Also involved are more than 230 cultural and community organisations, from libraries and heritage sites to archives and charities.  

The full programme is available now at beinghumanfestival.org.  

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