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 (10 total)

by Mirah Horowitz, Russell Reynolds Associates
"The Tragedie of King Lear," William Shakespeare
Mirah Horowitz describes the lessons imparted from her mother, an English professor, on reading and writing as ongoing practices of critical inquiry.

by Ben Vinson III, Dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, George Washington University
Mount Rushmore
Ben Vinson III reflects on how an appreciation for history can enrich our understanding of what he calls the “depth to our days.” Specifically, he recalls how the story of Mount Rushmore’s construction kindled his boyhood imagination growing up in South Dakota.

by Sally Dalton Robinson
Monument to E. M. Forster in Stevenage, Hertfordshire
Over the years I have been blessed by many humanities moments, but there is one that I especially cherish. Some fifteen years ago, I happened upon an article in The American Scholar written by a professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison who put forth the ten qualities he believed a person would acquire from having a solid liberal arts education. It was the tenth quality on his list that got me. It was “Only Connect,” two words taken from a work by E. M. Forster. By this, the professor meant that a liberal arts education…

by William Leuchtenburg, William Rand Kenan Jr. professor emeritus of history, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
"The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry," by Harold Bloom
In this account, William Leuchtenburg shares the story of a seemingly routine exchange with literary scholars in the late 1970s which spurred him to new insights about the ways iconic figures from the past influence those who succeed them, whether they be poets, or composers, or U.S. Presidents. Eventually, he would share these insights in his major work on presidential legacies, In The Shadow of FDR.

by Joan Hinde Stewart, President Emerita, Hamilton College
Joan of Arc, from 'Vie des Femmes Celebres,' c. 1505
In this video, Joan Hinde Stewart recalls the first book she ever checked out of a library — a biography of Joan of Arc — a memory triggered by an experience in her sixties. She describes the fascination she felt about Joan of Arc from an early age and the conflict she felt about reading this biography, as it was unsanctioned by the Catholic church. As she notes, however, “I became positively besotted with The Maid of Orleans. I could do nothing but think about Joan. That’s the way she is. She grabs you, and no matter how well you know…

by Carol Quillen, President, Davidson College
Confessions of St. Augustine
Carol Quillen describes how, growing up, her initial insights and perceptions came from what she calls promiscuous reading — reading anything and everything and then finding connections among these very different texts. She consumed Augustine’s Confessions, in the original Latin, which captures and conveys meaning differently than English and enabled her both to grasp and question the complex ways in which language represents reality. These differences in language, like reading, reveal different ways of seeing the world, and by…

by Thomas Scherer, Consultant, Spencer Capital Holdings
Hamilton, an American Musical
Thomas Scherer describes two related encounters which speak to the power of hearing poetry performed aloud. The first is an explanatory talk and poetry reading by the great literary scholar M. H. Abrams at the National Humanities Center; the second is hearing Lin-Manuel Miranda discuss his award-winning rap musical, Hamilton.

by C. Allen Parker, Partner, Cravath, Swaine and Moore, LLP
Vincent van Gogh, "Wheatfield with Crows"
In what I believe was the latter part of the 1980s, I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to a van Gogh exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum. And for the first time in my life, I wore one of those machines around my neck, where you listen to headphones and you hear somebody describe what it is you’re going to see. It was a brand-new experience.

The narrator was the then-director of the Metropolitan Museum, Philippe de Montebello, and at the introductory part of the exhibit, I was really struck by the quality of what he was saying. It was…

by Kevin Guthrie, founder/president, ITHAKA
Ulysses and the Sirens, illustration from an antique Greek vase
About seven months ago, our son was in a tragic ski accident, and was in a coma for close to a month. And during that really painful time, we didn’t know what was going to happen. Was he ever going to wake up? Was he not going to wake up? I, myself, couldn’t sleep and I was haunted all the time by thoughts of what might happen to him in the future, and how did this happen, and thinking about the past. And I remember thinking in one of those late-night moments about “The Odyssey” and about the description of the sirens on the banks. Of…

by W. Robert Connor, trustee emeritus, President and Director, of the National Humanities Center (1989-2002)
Captain John Borling, 1973
In the Hanoi Hilton, the place where the North Vietnamese imprisoned and often tortured American captives during the Vietnam War, the US prisoners used a tapping code to communicate with one another. But they didn’t just send conversational messages, they tapped out poetry, reciting from memory some of the favorites they remembered from school and composing new poems to lift their spirits. Their captors would not allow them to speak to one another. But they didn’t notice the tapping — or didn’t understand what it was about. Here’s…
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