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 (152 total)

by Deborah Ross, lawyer & politician
Egyptian cat statuette at Metropolitan Museum of Art
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler turned Deborah Ross’s world upside down. Kongisberg’s book, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, chronicles the adventures of Claudia and her brother, who run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The book kindled Ross’s imagination so much that when she visited the museum with her parents, she retraced the protagonist’s steps in search of the Egyptian cat, the fountain, and Michelangelo’s sculpture.

by Kathryn Hill, President, The Levine Museum of the New South
Harriet Beecher Stowe, c. 1852
In elementary school, Kathryn Hill itched to move beyond the first shelf of the library books. When she finally reached the second shelf, a new world awaited her: biographies of historical figures. The lives of women such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, and Dorothea Dix led her to understand that history was all about stories. She realized that her own life “needed to be about something”—and that it could be.

by Katie Clark, 21, Student
Radio
When I was a senior in high school, one of my friend's passed away from a tragic accident. My friend and I decided to attend the funeral together for comfort and support. I picked her up early that morning to shed our tears over him, and after spending some time with the family, we made our way back home. We decided to turn on some music to lighten the mood, when a Modest Mouse song came on the radio- "We All Float On." The two of us started bawling, but by the end of the song we felt we had healed, if only a little bit. We felt weightless.…

by Natalie Huebel, 22 years old and a student at Texas A&M University.
Engl 352 humanities moment.jpg
Due to the oil and gas industry plummeting in 2016, my dad lost his job that he had for over 30 years, right before I was about to leave for college. I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of guilt and anxiety for the duration of that summer. In addition to this, I was unhealthily dwelling on all the new transitions that were to shortly come. Having to live on my own, find a new group of friends, and ultimately, adjust to the course load that university was going to demand of me were all weighing heavy on my mind.

by Melanie, 20, Psychology major
Care package
It was a late night on September 14th, and school was at an overwhelming high. My new organization had just kicked off so all of my time was completely taken over by it, I was behind on my chemistry homework and I hadn't even began studying for my psychology test that was the following day. I felt like I was about to break into a million minuscule pieces, and I felt so emotionally drained that I was putting my loved ones on hold.
I was avoiding the text messages on my phone to avoid further distraction and more procrastination, but after a…

by Sydney, 21, student
IMG_7919.jpg
This might be a total Millennial generation kind of humanities moment, so readers be warned. One day, I was scrolling through social media when I came across a post from a wonderful calligraphy artist. It read, "and here you are living despite it all." The post reminded me of the many times in my life when I was so hurt and so devastated over something that had occurred that sometimes I didn't feel like I would survive them. There were arguments with my mom, break ups, and bad grades, and they all took their toll. So when I casually came across…

by J. Porter Durham, Jr., General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer, Global Endowment Management, LP
William Jennings Bryan campaign poster, 1900
J. Porter Durham, Jr. grew up in the segregated South during a time when public Ku Klux Klan sightings were not uncommon. In this video, Durham describes how a history class at Duke University taught by Lawrence Goodwyn upended his worldview. Professor Goodwyn’s book, The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America, transfigured Durham’s understanding of his local and familial history. For the first time, he was “forced to think anew.”

by Brian Finke, 21, Student at Texas A&M
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
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 ending marathon for the amusement of those around me. After seeing Biff finally stand up to Willy and tell him that he was tired of trying to be something that he could not achieve, I felt a sense of clarity. I had to pursue what I wanted in life not just seek the approval of…

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 returning my messages because she had stopped taking her anti-depressants, my grandmother was succumbing after a 3-year battle with stage 4 lung cancer, and my younger brother had attempted to commit suicide twice, was addicted to several narcotics and had premature…

by George, 21, student
08teslaroadster1.jpg
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 Roadster as a deadweight payload was a truly remarkable sight. The world was shown video footage of an already revolutionary electric car soaring above the atmosphere on a rocket developed by a wildly successful private space company.

However, this was very touching to…

by Teresa Kim, History teacher in Vista, California
How to Get U.S. Citizenship (2nd edition)
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 packed into her small suitcase along with a few articles of carefully selected clothing, photographs, and jewelry that would be the only things that would remind her of the life she had lived in Korea. As I glanced through the pages, I thought about my mother as a young…

by Jacob, Johnston 20 years old. College student at Texas A&M University
Lightbulb moment
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 purpose in this world. Each individual is born with a burning desire inside of them to fulfill this purpose and live their lives to the absolute fullest. This gives me hope that one day each individual will discover something that makes them feel alive each day and causes…

by Olympia Friday, Social Media & Strategic Marketing Coordinator, National Humanities Center
Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair
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 Fashion Fair” at the North Carolina Museum of Art, it became clear to me. I developed a deeper sense of the importance of John and Eunice Johnson’s creation. The Johnsons started Fashion Fair in 1958. This quote by Mr. Johnson, which was a part of the exhibit, placed…

by Stephen G. Hall, Alcorn State University
African American voter registration, 1960s
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 book, searching for what historian Isabel Wilkerson has called “the light of other suns” in the “recesses of their minds.” Their personal library—including the Bible, Encyclopedia Britannica, and the Great Books—stoked young Hall’s imagination. The harmonies of…

by Hollis Robbins, Johns Hopkins University
Gilgamesh
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 lecturer expounded on the theory of “mimetic desire,” or the idea that we borrow our desires from other people. Unbeknownst to her, the speaker was none other than famed anthropological philosopher René Girard. Yet, Hollis disagreed. In her opinion, culled from reading…

by Nancy J. Hirschmann, University of Pennsylvania
G.W.F. Hegel
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 “master-slave dialectic” and its notion of consciousness and recognition. The act of reading a text, deciphering it, and understanding how it translates into a significant meaning kindled Hirschmann’s engagement with political theory. For Hirschmann, grappling with Hegel’s work…

by Mab Segrest, Professor Emerita, Connecticut College
Sappho
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 racist violence, history had “come to [her] front door.” Seeking a better understanding of the U.S. South, she found William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury in the local library. Perplexed by the interior monologue of its opening pages, she forged ahead in…

by Catherine Newell, University of Miami & The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress
Candle
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 possibilities. During her final term in college, she stumbled into a Rabbinic Judaism class. While the texts ignited her intellect, it was the class dialogue that moved her in a profound way. Now a professor of religious studies herself, Newell reflects on how the class offered an…

by Emily Coccia, the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress
Adrienne Rich
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 her understand the other paths available to those wishing to enact social change.

by Alexander Knirim, Bayreuth University & The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress
Benedict Anderson, “Imagined Communities”
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 reconstruct historic truth, was challenged by Anderson’s book and evolved into an appreciation of Anderson’s exegesis.
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