Hay Festival 2021

The Birmingham speaker series at the Hay Festival

The Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts will take place online from Thursday 27 May to Sunday 6 June 2021.

The Festival brings together life-changing writers, fabulous stars of stage and screen, pioneers of science and technology, and future world leaders, for a party of ideas and stories.

The University of Birmingham’s College of Arts and Law will be hosting a series of talks, showcasing some of our top academics and the breadth of arts and humanities subjects studied by our students.

 Professor Alice Roberts will also be speaking at the Festival - for details on all our speakers and how to register for their talks see below!

Monday 31 May, 1pm - Signing Shakespeare

Abigail Rokison-WoodallOver the past two years, the ‘Signing Shakespeare’ project (born out of the collaboration between UoB and the RSC) has worked with D/deaf theatre practitioners and teachers of the D/deaf to tackle the problem of access to Shakespeare for young D/deaf students. There are at least 45,631 deaf children in the UK, only 41.1% of whom pass 5 GCSEs.  Many D/deaf children struggle with Shakespeare as the methods of teaching are not easily accessible to them and do not focus on the areas which they find most challenging.  29% of deaf children use some form of sign language; however, there are very few sign language-based resources for studying Shakespeare.  The project has undertaken a pilot study on Macbeth with three schools for the D/deaf, producing active lesson plans based on RSC rehearsal-room pedagogy, and making films of key scenes in British Sign Language. 

Abigail Rokison-Woodall (project lead), is joined by Tracy Irish (RSC), Angie Wootten (UoB) and Charlotte Arrowsmith (actor) to discuss the projects aims and methods and showcase the films.

Register for this talk


Thursday 3 June, 1pm - Translation as Activism: A Conversation Between Rebecca Ruth Gould and Kayvan Tahmasebian

Heather Gould and Kayvan TahmasebianTranslators choose the texts for which they advocate, making every translation intrinsically an activist act. Yet every translator understands their activism differently.

Tahmasebian and Gould will speak, as co-editors of The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Activism (2020) and co-authors of a forthcoming book on translation and activism, on different forms of activist translation. Both books reflect on translation and activism from across the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, East Asia, the US and Europe. 

As they consider translators’ roles in bringing about social change, Gould and Tahmasebian will discuss the editorial and collaborative process that shapes their work and co-authorship. They will also introduce resources for budding translators who wish to pursue translation’s activist dimensions, and for activists interested in engaging with translation. 

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Sunday 6 June, 1pm - The Imposteress Rabbit Breeder

A photo of Professor Karen HarveyIn October 1726, newspapers began reporting a remarkable event. In the town of Godalming in Surrey, a woman called Mary Toft had started to give birth to rabbits. Several leading doctors - some sent directly by King George I - travelled to examine the woman and she was moved to London to be closer to them. By December, she had been accused of fraud and taken into custody. Mary Toft's unusual deliveries caused a media sensation. Her rabbit births were a test case for doctors trying to further their knowledge about the processes of reproduction and pregnancy. The rabbit births prompted not just public curiosity and scientific investigation, but also a vicious backlash.

Based on extensive new archival research, this book is the first in-depth re-telling of this extraordinary story. Karen Harvey situates the rabbit-births within the troubled community of Godalming and the women who remained close to Mary Toft as the case unfolded, exploring the motivations of the medics who examined her, considering why the case attracted the attention of the King and powerful men in government, and following the case through the criminal justice system.

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Sunday May 30, 4-4.50pm - Ancestors: A Prehistory of Britain in Seven Burials

roberts-aliceThis book is about belonging: about walking in ancient places, in the footsteps of the ancestors. It's about reaching back in time, to find ourselves, and our place in the world.

We often think of Britain springing from nowhere with the arrival of the Romans. But in Ancestors, pre-eminent archaeologist, broadcaster and academic Professor Alice Roberts explores what we can learn about the very earliest Britons - from their burial sites. Although we have very little evidence of what life was like in prehistorical times, here their stories are told through the bones and funerary offerings left behind, preserved in the ground for thousands of years.

Told through seven fascinating burial sites, this groundbreaking prehistory of Britain teaches us more about ourselves and our history: how people came and went; how we came to be on this island.

Register for this talk

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