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

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…

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

Lesbian Feminist Voice

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…

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


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…

A Lifetime of Humanities Moments

Virginia Woolf

by Peter A. Benoliel

Some years ago, I was asked to give a lecture to students enrolled in a small university’s humanities program describing the personal epiphany I experienced which led to my passion for the humanities. Try as I might, I could not think of an isolated, single experience but…

Story-Making and the Fault Lines of American Capitalism

"Betting on Zero" by Ted Braun

by Edward J. Balleisen

Several weeks ago I had occasion to watch the new documentary, Betting on Zero. This fascinating film presents several interlinked stories, all related to the founding and growth of Herbalife, a multi-level-marketing company that sells nutritional supplements,…

Bringing What I Love Into A New Field


by Stephen Garrett, 21, Student

Taking an art class, I incorporated my love for the sport I do into my work. This is a white charcoal on black paper of my friends and me at the Yale Invitational putting our legs up on the wall after a hard night of racing. Translating moments like these into art allows for…

Seeing Fellini’s Amarcord Was the Greatest Cultural Moment of My Life

"Amarcord" by Federico Fellini

by Roddy Doyle, author

In this video, author Roddy Doyle describes the experience of seeing Fellini’s Amarcord for the first time as a boy in Dublin. Growing up in Ireland, at that time a strict Catholic country, it was revelatory for him to see the religion ridiculed in the subversive…

It’s the Little Things

Chinese class

by Soravit Sophastienphong, 21, Undergraduate at Duke University

There is a distinct moment I remember from my high school days that, while seemingly insignificant, is the reason I have always valued the humanities and humanities courses throughout my college experience. I was walking to a restaurant to meet a friend for lunch nearby my…