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.

Browse Items (119 total)

by Kevin Spencer, 37, PhD student in English at Duke University
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When I was young, maybe around 13 years old, I read a fantasy novel by Raymond Feist called Magician. I enjoyed reading since I was young, but I lived in a house where the TV was always on and I was easily distracted. On this occasion, I was reading on my bed in my quiet bedroom. The scene was some kind of chase, in which the main character is running away from something (maybe some monsters?), and he looks totally defeated. But suddenly, the hero's emotions produce some kind of magic effect and he defeats whatever it was that was…

by Jacqueline Stallworth, 46 years old, High School English teacher in northern Virginia
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My moment focuses on the fact that African American women have been using their words as Political Resistance.

by Pam Su'a, Social Studies/World Languages Administrator, Jordan School District
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Working with a sixth grade class in Utah to help them figure out "solutions to current issues" as required by our state social studies standards, our class wanted to do more than collect cans or pick up trash. The 11-year olds thought they could really figure out how to help someone if they knew who needed their help. We set them up via keypals with a class of students in a small, outlying village in Uzbekistan. (Very often Fortune 500 companies donate computers to third world countries to help students.) After several sessions of emailing…

by Sarah Arnold, 38, English Teacher
To Kill a Mocking Bird.jpg
I grew up in a very small town in rural Wisconsin. When I looked at my classmates it was like looking in a mirror. Because of that, I never realized that there were many people who were facing hardships because of their minority status and people who were taking advantage of them. Fast forward to my sophomore year of high school. Mrs. Shaw made it her mission to open our eyes. She wanted to expose us to the realities of this world. While I questioned it at the time, she showed us the entire Eyes on the Prize documentary. She would…

by Megan Webster, Educator
The Bosporus Strait
I have traveled many places and have tried to capture what I found unique, beautiful and different. But, this place, along the Bosporus Strait which merges the European region of Istanbul, Turkey, with the Asian region of Istanbul, Turkey, to be one of my favorites. At first I remember seeing this building and quickly trying to get out my camera to snap a photo before the ferry we were on quickly passed. However, it wasn’t until later I realized that the quick photo I managed to take of an abandoned building revealed more than I expected. …

by Victoria Ade, 29, Social Studies Teacher
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When I was two years old, my parents filed for divorce. At the age of two, I don't recall this time of my life but what I do remember is where it led me. As I grew up as an only child living in a home run by my single mother, she became my ultimate role model and was always my biggest supporter and my best friend.

Fast forward to high school, and the boyfriend my mom had since I can remember (about 4 years old) was moving out. In the wake of this massive change in both our lives, I had no idea that my mom was personally struggling with…

by Stephen Miller, 48, Philosophy Teacher
Hesse
Choosing a Humanities Moment was initially a challenging task. Over the last few years working with the organization PLATO (Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization), I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the humanities, liberal arts and a philosophical education. In particular, the so-called crisis of the Humanities, the popularity of STEM fields and the blossoming of a national testing regime prompted me to think a lot about what a good education should entail. In thinking back to my own education, my Humanities Moment both shows the…

by Carly Hill 34, teacher
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I was a brand new college freshman getting ready to attend my Political Science class that started at 8:45am on September 11, 2001. I heard the news on the radio when I first woke up and I thought it wasn't real. I turned on the TV and still couldn't believe it was real. I didn't know what else to do except go to class and so I did. My professor came in the room sobbing and she told us all to go home and be with our families. We all walked out of the lecture hall, scattering across the green, going our different directions. I began walking to…

by Daniel J. Palazzolo, 56, professor of political science at the University of Richmond
Virginia State Capitol
I had been to the Virginia State Capitol many times since I moved to Richmond in 1989. I’ve viewed proceedings in the House and Senate chambers, held meetings for students, given several lectures in the meeting rooms, and toured the building with family, friends, and students. Yet, until I took part in the Humanities in Class project with the National Humanities Center, I had not thought carefully about why the building was so important, both to me and to the people of Virginia. Just recently I visited the Capitol with a group of students…

by Cherry Whipple, 52, Teacher
Christmas Carols
When I was in elementary school I didn’t know anything about racial conflict or even recognize there were racial differences between the kids at my school. My classmates were just friends or people I went to school with. Everyone looked different, some had freckles, some had red hair, and some were darker skinned. That all changed the year of the 6th grade Christmas pageant. The program represented waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve with two students representing a brother and sister. All the other students singing various songs. The student…

by George Bailey, 74. Retired helicopter pilot (45 years). Failed musician, proficient amateur illustrator, avid sailor.
John Coltrane, “My Favorite Things”
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 than the 13 odd minutes of the performance to get home but we could not leave the car until the music was finished. Afterwards we turned off the radio and sat in silence for 5 minutes before…

by Edward Kinman, age 59, Professor of Geography and Coordinator of the Virginia Geographic Alliance
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Walking the cobble-stone streets of a Bolivian village, I witnessed how a new clinic in a medically underserved area hadn’t made much of an impact. I was visiting a remote outpost to better understand the challenges in promoting health in poor Latin American communities. People come here only as a last resort because of the relative high costs and they are suspicious and reluctant to enter a facility staffed by foreigners. Only two came to see the doctor during the three days we were there. Likewise, latrines build by the clinic hadn’t…

by Patricia Matthew, 49, English professor living in Brooklyn, New York
Lucille Clifton
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 evening was packed with more dazzling poets than I can remember, and I really couldn’t take it in. I still don’t remember much about it except hearing this poem and the story behind…

by Omar H. Ali, 46, Historian
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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 them crouching behind the bully while the other pushed him over—completely backfire (getting beat-up for a second time!); them tapping people’s heads from atop a wall as the clueless souls walked by not knowing what just happened; traveling by boat from India to…

by Stephen Kidd, Executive Director, National Humanities Alliance
Map of shootings at Kent State University, May 1970
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 event that had cleaved his home state several years prior. For Kidd, the campus tour crystallized the connection between physical spaces and the stories that surround them.

by Stephen Kidd, Executive Director, National Humanities Alliance
Calligrapher at the 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival
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 food cultures, celebrated culinary legacies as the owner of a New York Jewish delicatessen passed down the business to an immigrant from the Dominican Republic. Another project considered how the AIDS quilt fostered a sense of community in the midst of a public health…

by Yolande Frommer, 78, retired Travel Agent
Mstislav Rostropovich
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 until he passed away. This experience listening to the concerto was the real start of my love for classical music.

by Ben Wides, age 46, social studies teacher, East Side Community High School, New York City
William Millan
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 history of musical communities in New York City. After playing several Saoco albums for us, William described how his interest in the roots of Latin music led him on an intellectual journey to understand the cultural history of the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa. Then he…

by Esther Mackintosh, President of the Federation of State Humanities Councils
Dairy farm in winter
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 father’s written words, which described his own challenges as a newly married farmer during the Great Depression. His letter concluded with a question posed to his daughter: “Would it help you to know that things usually turn out alright?” Thanks to her father’s words,…

by Morna O’Neill, age 41, art history professor
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
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: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. It is the story of two children—a brother and a sister—who run away from home to solve the mystery of a sculpture: was it a long-lost work by Michelangelo? They hide in the Metropolitan Museum…
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