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.

Robert Newman, National Humanities Center"Humanities moments are the unexpected miracles that provide meaning, sharpen purpose, and offer depth—profound pauses in the otherwise frantic and self-absorbed scurrying that characterizes our gettings and spendings." –Robert D. Newman, President and Director, National Humanities Center

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

Studying the Jacobins and Rethinking my Political Leanings

Paul-Émile Boutigny, "Henri de La Rochejacquelein at the Battle of Cholet in 1793"

by Tim Miller, Salisbury University

My humanities moment came in preparing to teach a course on the French Revolution. I am by training a Byzantinist and medievalist, but got my job as a world history teacher. To fill in the gap and also since I could read French, the acting department chair gave me the job of…

The Streets of New York Are Like a Library

New York, NY

by Carter Thompson

In this video submission, artist Carter Thompson discusses how a recent exhibit on the Harlem Renaissance revealed some of the fascinating history of the century-old building in which he lives and helped him feel a connection across the decades with those who lived in the…

Only Connect

Monument to E. M. Forster in Stevenage, Hertfordshire

by Sally Dalton Robinson

Over the years I have been blessed by many humanities moments, but there is one that I especially cherish. Some fifteen years ago, I happened upon an article in The American Scholar written by a professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison who put forth the…

Can You Imagine a World Without Birdsong?

from "Peterson's Field Guide to Western Birds"

by Terry Tempest Williams, author, conservationist, activist

In this video recollection, author and conservation activist Terry Tempest Williams describes her first encounter with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and the ethical questions shared by her grandmother about taking personal responsibility for the natural world. As…

“I saw, in Stephen Dedalus, myself.”

James Joyce, 1915

by William Ferris, former Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities

In this excerpt from a conversation with William Ferris, former Chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, he shares how he came to see himself in Stephen Dedalus, the protagonist of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, who declares…

Discovering How Literature and Art Place Demands on Us

Rembrandt van Rijn, "Portrait of Aechje Claesdr"

by Dr. Gil Greggs, Director of Academic Programs, St. David’s School, Raleigh NC

In this video, Gil Greggs from St. David’s School in Raleigh, NC, recalls a series of moments in which he came to appreciate the power of literature and the arts to capture and convey the power and subtlety of human experience.

On the Anxiety of Influence

"The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry," by Harold Bloom

by William Leuchtenburg, William Rand Kenan Jr. professor emeritus of history, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In this account, William Leuchtenburg shares the story of a seemingly routine exchange with literary scholars in the late 1970s which spurred him to new insights about the ways iconic figures from the past influence those who succeed them, whether they be poets, or…

Memorial Hunting


Three years ago my schoolfriend of university took me to see the Canadian monument for the fallen soldiers of the First World War at Vimy in France. I especially remember the ride to Vimy. As out of nothing there was this huge monument on a hill. The white stones and the…

The First Book I Ever Checked Out of a Library

Joan of Arc, from 'Vie des Femmes Celebres,' c. 1505

by Joan Hinde Stewart, President Emerita, Hamilton College

In this video, Joan Hinde Stewart recalls the first book she ever checked out of a library — a biography of Joan of Arc — a memory triggered by an experience in her sixties. She describes the fascination she felt about Joan of Arc from an early age and the conflict she…

Reading St. Augustine’s Confessions in Latin

Confessions of St. Augustine

by Carol Quillen, President, Davidson College

Carol Quillen describes how, growing up, her initial insights and perceptions came from what she calls promiscuous reading — reading anything and everything and then finding connections among these very different texts. She consumed Augustine’s Confessions, in…