What we are:

Humours of the past (HOP) is an international interdisciplinary research network funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. HOP brings together academic researchers, directors, translators, curators and others who have a professional stake in interpreting humour and laughter from cultures of the distant and more recent past.

We work on the premise that thinking about humour illuminates our cultural preoccupations and aspirations in new ways. Satire, for instance, can be an important means of public critique but it can also have terrifying and tragic consequences. Its impact relates to our values and context. Studying humour from a historical perspective can both illuminate past cultural values and reveal the ways in which they have changed.

What we aim to do:

HOP aims to create discussions that will throw light on the historical links between humour, identity and cultural values in order to better understand the past and to illuminate those links in contemporary contexts. Further, HOP seeks to enhance the way we access and use the humour(s) of the past. We do this in two ways. First, we seek to clarify the methodologies by which researchers in academic history and other professionals interpret and make sense of humour from different cultural worlds across time. Second, we seek to create discussions between professionals inside and outside the academy that address the contemporary contexts in which humour from past cultures must be addressed.

Humours of the past in the present:

A central part of HOP’s focus is to consider the relevance of historical humour in the present day. The discussions we seek to develop, for example, include: 1) how to translate historical humour for contemporary markets, 2) how to perform historical humour on contemporary stages and screens, 3) how to interpret and curate visual humour from the past, and 4) how longstanding comic stereotypes might be relevant to contemporary social conflicts and policy responses.

Our activities:

Please see our menu pages for further information. Alongside several smaller scale events, HOP will pursue its aims through two ‘collaboratories’, which will explore questions of research methodology as well as contemporary uses of humour from the past.


HOP is funded by The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The AHRC funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. For further information on the AHRC, please go to: www.ahrc.ac.uk.


Banner image: BL Harley 6563, ff. 43v-44. Made available under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Inset image: Wellcome Library, London, L0037337 Made available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0