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 (126 total)

by Soravit Sophastienphong, 21, Undergraduate at Duke University
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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 high school when a Taiwanese couple stopped me and asked for directions to a famous pond nearby. I could tell that they could not understand my instructions, so I tried my best to tell them the directions in Chinese, given my limited knowledge studying Chinese in school.…

by Jennifer Snoddy, 42, high school history teacher, TAC member
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I am not a churchgoer or a believer, and thus, I have always been left with questions about the deeper meaning of life that could not be easily answered through traditional authorities. Instead, I have had to search for ways to make meaning myself. The importance of this quest to make meaning in a chaotic world was first impressed upon me as a young girl when I listened to my father playing traditional bluegrass songs and was almost physically jolted by the power of a single line, "Such a short time to stay here, such a long time to be gone."…

by Alejandro, 19, student
Lake Nicaragua
Every single year, from first grade all the way up to senior year, we heard about one man: Ruben Darío. Growing up in Nicaragua, where this internationally renowned poet/writer is from, one would expect that. We covered his biography life’s works multiple times in our literature classes. I recognized his undeniable talent, but somehow I had managed to overlook the simple fact he was Nicaraguan. It was not until 11th grade when we had a field trip to his house, which is now a preserved landmark 45 minutes away from my school, that I truly…

by Liv McKinney, Duke '20, Biology Major
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To get an ALP credit I took an English class about books and short stories that were turned into movies. What I thought would be a fun, lighthearted class, led to an immense appreciation of the details that authors and directors choose to include in their work (while being fun of course). Anything I watch now causes me to think about the choices behind every aspect of production and allows me to explore a creative side that I never thought I would be interested in.

by Zachary Fine, 19, Student
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I was around seven years old. My dad and I were in the car when the song came on. "My Front Porch Looking In" by the band Lonestar was my favorite song and I knew every word. I loved singing the song at the top of my lungs every time it came on. Today though, I stayed quiet. I had just witnessed yet another argument between my parents and my dad had taken me for a drive around town to cool off. He looked over at me with a confused expression when he saw I wasn't singing. All of a sudden he started singing the song as loud as possible and…

by Yael Lazar, PhD Candidate in Religious Studies at Duke University and a curator for the Humanities Moments Project
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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 Japanese aesthetics on which they are based. And it was nothing like Hello Kitty.

Traditional Japanese aesthetics–which can be found in their well-known gardens, teahouses, and architecture…

by Jamie Lathan, 39, teacher and school administrator, husband, father, son, brother, friend.
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As I grew up in rural South Carolina in the 1980s, baseball was my favorite hobby and pastime. For most of my 7 year Dixie league/recreational league baseball career (ages 5 to 12), my dad was my coach. I don’t remember watching baseball on television because we only had three to four channels and did not have cable.

On my first baseball team, I was the only black player; and then after that most of my teams were majority black. At this time I only had vague notions about race, although I knew that I was black. Because both of my parents…

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…
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