3 students perform in the student story slam ensemble

Princeton expands ‘Being Human’ festival to communities on campus and in greater New Jersey

Princeton University joins the international “Being Human” festival this fall, with workshops, lectures and activities with the theme “Discoveries and Secrets.” Members of the Princeton student slam poetry ensemble Ellipses, which includes sophomore Christina Im (left), junior Yezekiel Williams and sophomore Brooke Johnson, will perform in Newark, New Jersey, for a clean drinking water fundraiser at “The Thicker Than Water Open Mic” on Friday, Dec. 13.

This fall, Princeton University is bringing the international “Being Human: A Festival of the Humanities” to diverse audiences across New Jersey.

In fall 2018, the University became the first U.S. institution to join the annual festival, which originates in the U.K. In 2019, Princeton’s programming for “Being Human” offers over 20 events in the humanities on and off campus through experiential activities including performances, tours and workshops. Coordinated by the Humanities Council in partnership with the Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship (ProCES), the celebration runs through Dec. 19.

This year’s theme of “Discoveries and Secrets” prompts participants to explore untold stories, hidden histories and mysteries. Events on campus, in the town of Princeton, as well as Lawrenceville, Newark, Yardville and Jersey City, range from a tour of Princeton’s literary history to a concert focused on depictions of illness and healing at the Princeton University Art Museum; from improv and poetry slams to refugee oral history. Attendees will imaginatively examine questions about identity, the environment and sustainability, and the human condition.

View of park land

On Saturday, Dec. 7, William Gleason, the Hughes Rogers Professor of English and American Studies, and graduate student Kate Thorpe will teach participants how to analyze and create poetry about nature in “Literature and Environment: A Reading and Creative Writing Colloquium” at the D&R Greenway Land Trust's Scott and Hella McVay Poetry Trail in Princeton.

"At a time when the value of the humanities is both misunderstood and challenged, it is exciting to see the Princeton humanities community engage broader publics in shared conversation,” said Eric Gregory, professor of religion and chair of the Humanities Council. “Our participation in this worldwide festival is an opportunity to get out of the classroom and showcase the ‘Discoveries and Secrets’ of humanities research."

Sarah Churchwell, a 1998 graduate alumna and director of Being Human at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, said that since the 2014 founding of the U.K. festival, over 1,500 events have unfolded.

Chamber music ensemble, as seen from a high vantage point

The Princeton Chamber Music Society, a student ensemble, will present a concert “Being Sound: Music, Madness and Medicine” at the Princeton University Art Museum on Thursday, Nov. 21, in connection with the exhibition “States of Health: Visualizing Illness and Healing.”

“Our message is simple: humanities research is vital to democratic society and it is directly relevant to everyone's lives, not only those who research it,” Churchwell said. “We are thrilled that Princeton University is partnering with the festival again to bring research out to its local communities in creative and innovative ways, as we share the same mission: inspiring and empowering through public engagement."

All events are free. Some require online registration. Community partners include the Arts Council of Princeton, the Historical Society of Princeton, Princeton Public Library, Garden State Youth Correctional Facility, Labyrinth Books, D&R Greenway Land Trust, People & Stories, Jammin’ Crepes and Massive Dynamics. 

Stained glass window featuring a woman reading a book

The Princeton University Art Museum’s stained glass of Saint Cecilia, an ancient Roman martyr and patroness of music, is the focus of “The Art of Being Human: St. Cecilia through Poetry and Film” on Thursday, Dec. 12.

Programming highlights:

  • Friday, Nov. 15-Friday, Dec. 13; 5:30-7 p.m., Lawrence Community Center, Lawrenceville, New Jersey. “Conversations on Identity and Difference.” Led as a Princeton University Service Focus cohort by Cheyenne Wolf, executive director of People & Stories; Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Christina Lee; Kira O’Brien of the Pace Center for Civic Engagement; and junior Toyosi Oluwole. Students and community members will explore how narratives can ultimately increase self-awareness among diverse backgrounds, communities and environments. Through readings and conversations, participants will not only discover previously unexamined parts of themselves, but also critically engage with the people around them. Direct any questions to Kira O’Brien, kirao@princeton.edu.
  • Thursday, Nov. 21, 5:30-6:30 p.m., Princeton University Art Museum. “Being Sound: Music, Madness and Medicine.” Princeton Chamber Music Society, an ensemble of Princeton students, will give a concert that explores the multifaceted intersection of music and medicine, in connection with the exhibition “States of Health: Visualizing Illness and Healing,” with over 80 globe-spanning works of art from antiquity to the present, on view Nov. 2, 2019-Feb. 2, 2020. In conjunction with the museum’s Late Night Thursdays series.
  • Saturday, Dec. 7, 2-5 p.m., D&R Greenway Land Trust at the Johnson Education Center, 1 Preservation Place, Princeton. “Literature and Environment: A Reading and Creative Writing Colloquium.” William Gleason, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of English and American Studies, and Kate Thorpe, a Ph.D. candidate in English, will lead the event with insights from their undergraduate seminar, “Literature and Environment.” Participants will first closely read a poem, analyzing not only how the writer imagines relationships between humans and the natural world, but also the formal strategies used by the poet. Next, participants will walk along the Scott and Hella McVay Poetry Trail adjacent to the Johnson Education Center, where they will learn to craft their own poems. After writing, participants will reflect on their compositional experiences, discussing how literature can nourish healthier relationships with the natural world.
  • Monday, Dec. 9; 7-9 p.m.; Princeton Public Library, Community Room. “Improv and Being Human.” The Princeton Graduate Improv Club, along with New York-based improvisation instructors, will teach audience members improvisation. Improvisation spurs creative thinking, confidence in public speaking and unconventional problem-solving. The collective improvisational mind functions as a means to enhance empathy and community. Register by email: skoutnev@princeton.edu.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 10, 5:30-8:15 p.m., Jammin’ Crepes, 20 Nassau St. “Prescription Vegetable?” This event will explore food as an entry point for human connection, and in particular the ways in which “plant-forward” and “place-based” eating can bring health to both individuals and systems of community agriculture. Andrew Chignell, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Religion and the University Center for Human Values; Tessa Desmond, associate research scholar in the Program in American Studies; Kyle Oskvig, a Ph.D. candidate in classics; and senior Alice Wistar will partner with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey to host a dinner sourced by ingredients from local farmers with lectures from experts. Registration opens mid-November.
  • Thursday, Dec. 12, 1-4 p.m., Arts Council of Princeton. “Redesign Your Workplace: Space and Creativity.” The spaces where we work, play, rest and socialize might affect our thinking more than we realize. Incorporating groundbreaking psychology and neuroscience, this interactive exhibit will encourage participants to arrange three scenes — an office, a classroom and a domestic room — with a view to creativity. Participants will access their creative process with a number of techniques and exercises to foster divergent thinking.
  • Friday, Dec. 13, 6 p.m., Source of Knowledge Bookstore, 867 Broad St., Newark, New Jersey. “The Thicker Than Water Open Mic.” Student poets from Princeton’s Ellipses poetry slam ensemble; Aniyah Smith, the youth poet laureate of Washington, D.C.; and the Newark Youth Poetry Team will perform a poetry slam to draw attention to the city’s lead poisoning water issues. A 50/50 raffle will benefit a Newark-based venture to supply bottled water to families in need.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 18, 7-8:30 p.m., Princeton Public Library, Community Room. “Illuminating Incarceration in Antiquity Through Digital Humanities.” Professors Matthew Larsen, lecturer in the Humanities Council and religion, and Caroline Cheung, assistant professor of classics, will guide participants into the history of incarceration in antiquity through the use of digital humanities. They will use 3D modeling, virtual reality and 3D printing technologies to show layouts of entire ancient prisons, as well as a virtual reality walk-through of a 3D model of one ancient prison.

Read the full program here.