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.

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.

Recently Added Moments

Not Too Far Off

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

by Brian Finke, 21, Student at Texas A&M

While I was a teenager about to go off to college, I watched Death of a Salesman at the theater. At the time I was struggling with the transition I was about to embark on, but I found a deep connection to Biff's character. I felt like I was always running a never…

Optimism in the Form of Self-Control

Harbinger of spring

Personally I’ve never been one to adopt a positive outlook when things go wrong. In my life, things tend to go wrong more than they go right. This time last year I was struggling. I was caught in some toxic friendships, a toxic situation with a guy, my best friend wasn’t…

The world we live in isn't as big as you may think


by George, 21, student

On Tuesday February 6th of 2018, I watched SpaceX launch Falcon Heavy and successfully land two of its boosters. This launch was inspiring to many people because it was the first rocket launched capable of reaching Mars. The fact that Musk choose to launch his personal Tesla…

How to Get U.S. Citizenship and the American Dream

How to Get U.S. Citizenship (2nd edition)

by Teresa Kim, History teacher in Vista, California

When I was 8 years old, I found hidden in a drawer a little, brown book. It was a well-worn copy of, "How to Get U.S. Citizenship," which my mother had used to prepare for her U.S. citizenship exam. When I asked her about it, she explained that it was one of the items…

Response to a response

Lightbulb moment

by Jacob, Johnston 20 years old. College student at Texas A&M University

I was in my English class and we were talking about humanities moments for extra credit. We talked about a woman who disagreed with the "mimetic" effect and she claimed that people have a desire to be different. I agree with this idea but I also believe that each human has a…

Haute Couture: Fashion Fair and the Empowerment of the Black Community

Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair

by Olympia Friday, Social Media & Strategic Marketing Coordinator, National Humanities Center

I recall flipping through Ebony magazine as a child in the 80s and often seeing pictures of Fashion Fair models. It didn’t dawn on me then how the power of fashion was being used to inspire an entire community. After seeing “Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony…

Where Dreams Were Made and Humanistic Visions Forged

African American voter registration, 1960s

by Stephen G. Hall, Alcorn State University

Throughout their son’s childhood, Stephen Hall’s parents, both children of sharecroppers, crafted a “deeply humanistic perch” from which he could “view the world.” Though possessing none of the benefits of class or race privilege, they harnessed the power of the…

Finding Freedom from the Familiar


by Hollis Robbins, Johns Hopkins University

In 1979, at age 16, Hollis Robbins found herself enrolled at John Hopkins University. Though she was there as part of a program for girls who excelled in math, she signed up for a humanities lecture class. In that day’s class, drawing upon the epic of Gilgamesh, a guest…

Solving the “Very Complicated Puzzle” of How Humanity Lives

G.W.F. Hegel

by Nancy J. Hirschmann, University of Pennsylvania

As a 21-year-old senior in college, Nancy Hirschmann encountered—and was forever changed by—German philosopher Hegel’s notoriously difficult passages in The Phenomenology of Spirit. Suddenly, she “broke through the wall” of the concept of the…

Sometimes You Just Need to Keep Reading


by Mab Segrest, Professor Emerita, Connecticut College

Growing up in the mid-1960s as a white girl in Tuskegee, Alabama, Mab Segrest attended a segregated private school that her parents had helped found in response to a court order years earlier to integrate public high schools. In the shadows of governor George Wallace’s…

The Transformative Power of Dialogue


by Catherine Newell, University of Miami & The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress

Growing up in a very small town that once had the most churches per capita in the country, Catherine Newell was around many people who were believers. Moving away from her hometown, she encountered a more religiously diverse environment, opening her mind to other…

Literature and Its Worlds of Possibility

Adrienne Rich

by Emily Coccia, the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress

In middle school, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird inspired Emily Coccia to imagine the possibilities of the law to bring communities closer to justice. In college, it was the world of critical theory—such as feminist and queer theory—however, that helped…

History, (Re)imagined

Benedict Anderson, “Imagined Communities”

by Alexander Knirim, Bayreuth University & The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress

Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism compelled Alexander Knirim, then a young historian, to re-think the role of imagination in history. Knirim recounts how his original misunderstanding, that we can…

The Jungle: Personalizing the Historical Struggle of Workers

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

by Kristen Shedd, Fullerton College & The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress

An early encounter with muckraking American novelist Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle exposed Kristen Shedd to issues surrounding human rights and animal rights in the early 20th century. For Shedd, the 1906 novel exposed the intersections of fiction, policy, history,…

Don’t Understand Me Too Quickly

Dresden after firebombing, 1945

by Jon Parrish Peede, Acting Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities

Fresh out of graduate school, Jon Parrish Peede embraced the chance to travel, arriving in Eastern Europe during the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. A last-minute decision to see the opera Don Giovanni in Vienna—and a startling conversation with a local…