Humanities Moments

Humanities Moments

We’ve all had “humanities moments” — when our lives were made richer, more poignant, and meaningful because of the insights the humanities provide.

Humanities moments occur daily in the lives of human beings. We access them through stories that reveal our complexities, our aspirations, and our tragic flaws. Whether we reflect on our personal experiences or our national history, it is the humanities moments that are most resonant and to which we continually return to mark who we are as individuals and as a culture.

The Humanities Moments Project was created by the National Humanities Center in an effort to gather, store, and share personal accounts about how the humanities illuminate our lives, help us better understand ourselves and each other, and provide tools for more fully understanding where we came from and where we are going.

We encourage you to

  • Explore the moments submitted by people from all walks of life about how the humanities have shaped their understanding of the world and of their fellow human beings, opened their eyes to new possibilities, and helped guide them through life.
  • Share your own stories about memorable encounters with history, literature, philosophy, the study of art and music, film and folklore, and other humanities topics.
  • Invite others to join the Humanities Moments project and add their voices to those gathered here.

Recently Added Moments

Abu’s Afsanas

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by Omar H. Ali, 46, Historian

My Abu (‘father’ in Urdu) is my favorite storyteller ... I grew up with stories of his childhood in India and later in his life: he and his best friend, Shafi, climbing neem trees in Puna; them trying to get back at a bully, but having their elaborate plan—with one of…

Spaces & Stories: Kent State

Map of shootings at Kent State University, May 1970

by Stephen Kidd, Executive Director, National Humanities Alliance

Stephen Kidd, Executive Director of the National Humanities Alliance, recalls a trip to Kent State University that he made as a high school student while growing up in Ohio. This visit to the site of the 1970 Kent State shootings provided a greater historical context to an…

From the Silk Road to the National Mall

Calligrapher at the 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

by Stephen Kidd, Executive Director, National Humanities Alliance

Stephen Kidd, Executive Director of the National Humanities Alliance, explains how his involvement with several projects during his time at the Smithsonian illuminated the powerful role of the humanities in cultivating cross-cultural community. One project, which focused on…

Dvořák’s cello concerto

Mstislav Rostropovich

by Yolande Frommer, 78, retired Travel Agent

It was our first real date. His blind date had backed out and I volunteered to hear Rostropovich’s debut in Washington to play the Dvořák. It was not only a memorable concert but a few years later I married my date. We had a wonderful marriage lasting almost 40 years…

Finding “the Truth” in Music

William Millan

by Ben Wides, age 46, social studies teacher, East Side Community High School, New York City

In June 2017, I found myself in a cramped, sweltering apartment in New York’s East Village. I was there with three high-school students to interview William Millan, founder of the seminal 1970s Latin band, Saoco. The students were working on a documentary film about the…

Things Usually Turn Out Alright

Dairy farm in winter

by Esther Mackintosh, President of the Federation of State Humanities Councils

Esther Mackintosh, President of the Federation of State Humanities Councils, explains how a single letter from her father offered solace during an especially trying period of her life. As a graduate student facing an uncertain future, Mackintosh took refuge in her…

Visiting the Art Musuem

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

by Morna O’Neill, age 41, art history professor

My family always visited art museums when I was a child. I’m not quite sure why, as we never talked about the art, and I wondered, in secret, what exactly we were supposed to be doing there. When I was about eight years old, I read a book that answered that question:…

A few lines of poetry might be all we need...

East German citizens climb the Berlin Wall

by Nancy Gardner, educational consultant and NBCT teacher

I remember seeing the images on the television, in newspapers, and in magazines. It was such an epic event. The Berlin Wall was coming down, something I never imagined would happen. As a child in the 50s and 60s, I remember bomb drills during elementary school. Several of…

“For the Sake of a Cloud”

“Helen,” by Euripides

by Skye Shirley, age 28, Latin Teacher in Boston, MA

While taking Latin in high school, I became fascinated by the story of the Trojan War. I loved the interconnected perspectives of soldiers, royalty, deities, and ordinary people. The family trees and catalogues of soldiers seemed endless, and I was thrilled to discover that…

Origin Stories: Or, Making Sense of Surprises in the Family Tree

Family tree

by Molly A. Warsh, Assistant Professor of World History, University of Pittsburgh

My Humanities Moment happened when my husband and I received the results of the genetic testing kits we’d ordered. The stories that my husband’s DNA told matched up pretty closely with his family’s history, but mine delivered some surprises. In addition to indicating a…

Resilience, humility, and picnics

Fishing camp

by Matthew Booker, associate professor of American environmental history, North Carolina State University

I like picnics. Picnics take us outside, to share food with people we like. Those are my three favorite things, and picnics offer all three with a minimum of fuss or cost. Every picnic is a special occasion. But one stands out because it showed me how much we can learn from…

A Scientist Appreciates the Humanities

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by Andromeda Crowell, 27, Science Teacher, Orange High School, Hillsborough, NC

During college I was on my way to becoming a scientist when I decided to get my education license on the side. During my student teaching internship, I was set to teach my mostly anti-science group of students a controversial topic in biology. I was not really looking…

Witnessing the effects of near-history in Iraq

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by Scott, 34, former journalist

I was a newspaper reporter covering the War in Iraq in the late 2000s. My assignment was exciting, but often lonely. I bounced from town to town, usually embedded with the U.S. Army. At the end of a long day, there often was no one to talk to, grab a bite with or even watch…

A Timeless Description

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by Elizabeth Mulcahy

I feel robbed that I did not get the opportunity to ask my Great Uncle Burl what it was like to train in North Africa or share stories of being at the Duomo in Florence. I was a young teen when he passed, and he did not share the horrors he saw as part of the 316th Medical…

A quiet desperation

Map of Walden Pond

In my late 20s, I knew that I wanted to make a vocational shift, but I struggled to find the courage to do so. One day, I came across the lines of Transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau. “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation,” he wrote in Walden

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