Press release

Creatures from the Tay to help explore what it means to be human

Published on 4 July 2019

A hitherto undiscovered civilisation living beneath the River Tay are set to emerge from their aquatic asylum and deliver their verdict on our species when the University of Dundee hosts the UK’s national celebration of the humanities later this year

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Dundee has once again been named as one of five hubs for the Being Human festival, which takes place from 14-23 November. The programme will be built around the theme of ‘The Aquatic City’, with events showcasing the range of scholarship at the University. The imaginary civilisation will provide a starting point to explore the relationship between humanity and water, taking on issues as diverse as exploration, colonisation, pollution, animal rights and inequality.

“Rivers, seas and oceans are fundamentally imaginative spaces full of terror and wonder,” said Dr Daniel Cook, Being Human lead for Dundee and a senior lecturer at the University’s English department. “Water has led to both exploration and destruction and this duality has been a preoccupation of the humanities throughout time as we seek to understand the world around us.

“The Tay has provided sustenance and purpose for the communities it supports but it also has an ignoble history of bridge disasters, whaling, pirating, shipwrecks and more. For this year’s Being Human we imagine that the biggest surprise has yet to reach the surface – a Scottish Atlantis, an ancient civilisation that has thrived beneath the water this whole time. What can we learn from these mysterious people?

“This is an elaborate thought experiment as well as being a starting point for conversations about our relationship with the River Tay and the treatment of our shared environment.”

The Dundee programme will also feature events based on the classic novels Moby Dick and Robinson Crusoe, highlighting the city’s connection to both. Whaling was traditionally one of Dundee’s major industries and the ethical issues raised in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick remain topical at a time when Japan has announced a return to commercial whaling, outlawed across most of the rest of the world.

As a merchant (as well as a Government spy), Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, travelled extensively by sea and Dundee was one of the many ports he visited. Writing of a 1724 visit he described “a pleasant, large, populous city [that] well deserves the title of Bonny Dundee…it is full of stately houses, and large handsome streets…The inhabitants here appear like gentlemen, as well as men of business”.

The full programme for the Dundee hub of Being Human 2019 will be announced in September. Universities and other organisations across the UK will host events alongside a series of international activities. Led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, Being Human is a national forum for public engagement with humanities research.

The festival highlights the ways in which the humanities can inspire and enrich lives, helping us to understand ourselves, our relationships with others, and the challenges we face in a changing world.


Press Office, University of Dundee
Story category Events and exhibitions