Humanities Moments
The Middle East

Witnessing the Effects of Near-History in Iraq

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 bootleg movie. What I did have, though, was a paperback copy of The Great…
The Vatican

Meeting the last man on planet earth who could speak Latin

Michael Fontaine, 40, professor of classics at Cornell University

A single question changed the course of my life. When I first began studying Latin in 1996, it was a dead language, no doubt about it. It was pointless to try to speak it; everyone agreed the grammar was just too hard. Legend had it, though, that a single man—a priest, somewhere in Rome, Italy—could do it. The last man alive who could speak…
Car radio

My Favorite Things

George Bailey, 74. Retired helicopter pilot (45 years). Failed musician, proficient amateur illustrator, avid sailor.

At the age of 74, I could describe many humanities moments but this one stands out. Sometime in 1961, my brother was driving me home when I first heard Symphony Sid play John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” over the radio. I was a veteran jazz listener at that time but the sound of this recording captivated us. From the time it started, it took less…

Wabi-Sabi: The Perfectly Imperfect

Yael Lazar, PhD Candidate in Religious Studies at Duke University and a curator for the Humanities Moments Project

As part of my undergraduate degree in Asian studies, I took a class on Haiku, a traditional form of Japanese poetry. At the time, I knew nothing about Japan beyond its youth’s obsession with Hello Kitty and similar colorful animated characters. In analyzing and understanding the magic of these three-lines poems, we talked a lot about the traditional…
Writing poetry

The Perfect Invitation

Patricia Matthew, 49, English professor living in Brooklyn, New York

Hearing Lucille Clifton’s poem “won’t you celebrate with me” at a celebration of her work is the Humanities Moment that offered both comfort and a model for how to navigate life as a Black academic. I was a new English professor and was unprepared for the isolation I felt in the academy when a senior colleague invited me to the Clifton event. The…

About Humanities Moments

The humanities are everywhere. But they are so interwoven into our daily lives that we often miss them. Sometimes, though, they surprise you. A book you can’t put down. A photograph that haunts you. A song you can’t get out of your head. The Humanities Moments Project was created to collect stories about how the humanities touch us, inspire us, and enrich our lives.

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