Festival of Ideas for Curious Minds

Assuming that you are as uncultured as I am, you probably haven’t heard of the British Academy either. This beautifully historic institution is home to a fellowship of over 1,000 distinguished academics – which have included Winston Churchill, C.S. Lewis and Seamus Heaney – who utilise the humanities and social sciences to answer the many great questions facing society today. It was here I attended the Festival of Ideas for Curious Minds – and not just because I was curious about the selection of available freebies!

Rarely open to the public, the British Academy hosted its first summer showcase over the weekend of June 22nd and, from the success and vast demand, hope to continue to welcome their inquisitive guests. The showcase comprised of 15 thought-provoking exhibits that aimed to inspire its audience to reconsider how we approach the issues relevant to the modern world. These exhibits included: how America is depicted in video games, an examination into the diversity of the armed forces and whether the home is the key to equality for women (presented by our very own Helen McCarthy!). Of all the interactive exhibits and fascinating talks, my friend’s favourite was @avmcuriousities’ summery edible perfume, but I have to admit that I cannot choose as easily. The passion and enthusiasm of each researcher was a refreshing addition that is scarcely seen in displays, but it transformed the whole experience! The following are some of my highlights, but please visit their website to read the articles which I have no doubt will stimulate your thinking.

Source: British Academy, Benedict Johnson

Is 3D cinema only good for spectacle and novelty, or can it do more?

When do you think the first 3D short was released? Probably around 1990, right? Wrong! Directors have been playing around with digital cinema since 1900! Dr Nick Jones explained that Victorian stereoscopes have been mapping and distorting space for well over a century now. This has been crucial to understanding today’s wider landscape of digital technologies, including pervasive digital surveillance and the phenomenon of big data. Unfortunately, I was too engrossed in experiencing Mr Robot in VR to elaborate on these wonderful uses of 3D cinema, but that’s even more reason for you to go and research!

What can our ancestors teach us about sleeping well?

At some point or another you’ve probably fake-laughed at somebody telling you that you must have ‘woken up on the wrong side of the bed’ because your RBF was a little too extreme one morning… but this idiom dates back to our early modern ancestors (ca. 1450-1750) who believed that optimum sleep was not achieved unless you awoke on your left side, as it indicated a full cycle of digestion. Professor Sasha Handley has conducted the first in-depth investigation into the history of sleep, as the excess of bright and shiny distractions are stopping most of us from getting our much needed 7-9 hours. The nation’s sleep deprivation began at the turn of the 19th century as the rise in sociability saw more people staying up late to drink wine and gossip, instead of catching their forty winks (but who can blame them?!). However, Handley offers a useful and fun solution: sleep scent pouches! An enchanting combination of lavender, rose, hops and essential oils may be the way to achieve a restful night’s sleep once again and we were lucky enough to make our own!

Source: British Academy, Benedict Johnson

Humanities and Humours

Referred to as the ‘naughty corner’ of the event, the wedding-worthy gardens hosted the only comedy event where you laugh while you learn! The incredibly funny Steve Cross (comedian and creator of Science Show-off and Over-Analyser’s Book Club) gathered some of the UK’s funniest academics to share some hilarious history and laugh-out-loud literature! Lecturers and PhD students (including QMUL Medieval historian, Julia Bourke) gathered together to deliver sketches on their expert topics. This was extremely brave bearing in mind that the audience were prohibited from taking their drinks outside! One lovely lecturer presented an exceedingly convincing case for Frankenstein essentially being a story from boy-toy to compliant cyborg vagina. Another devastated me by explaining in her ‘fake facts about Shakespeare’ that the master himself could not have composed Juliet’s famous balcony scene as the word itself was not added to the dictionary until two years after his death! But the best part of all is despite the very smart people on stage, you don’t actually need to know any of the content to find it interesting and funny.

Source: British Academy, Benedict Johnson


Alcohol and Humans

A Long and Social Affair is their next event on September 13th and 14th, but it is worth a visit just to fantasise about being a princess (or prince!) walking down their fairytale staircases!

Nearest Tube: Charing Cross

Source: British Academy, Benedict Johnson


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *