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 (9 total)

Portrait of Frederick Douglass
In the speech from which this excerpt is taken, Frederick Douglass delivered a powerful argument about the hypocrisy inherent in celebrating America’s founding while continuing to allow slavery. As he notes, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

Photograph of Emily Dickinson
This short poem by Emily Dickinson (a mere six lines), describes how service to others, even in the smallest of ways, can give a life purpose and meaning.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

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…

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
When my hero, Sonia Sotomayor, arrived at Princeton in 1972, she was a quietly diligent student, but one whose working-class background, ethnicity, and gender set her apart from most of her classmates. Princeton had only recently begun admitting women and there were very few Latinos (only 20) of either gender among its elite ranks. During the spring of that first year, she took a class on Contemporary Latin America with historian Peter Winn, who — on grading her first paper — pointed out the idiomatic and grammatical errors she had made…

Portrait of Abigail Adams
In a time when wives were treated like property, Abigail Adams insisted that her husband “Remember the Ladies” when writing the laws of the country and warning him, that “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” Full text of some of her letters can be found athttp://americainclass.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/AAdams-StudentVersion.pdf

Paul Cezanne, “The Bathers”
When I first encountered Paul Cezanne's most famous painting, The Bathers, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art I was struck by the way the artist was able to depict subtle differences among the figures even though none of them have distinct facial features. Over time, as I've revisited this amazing work and learned more about Cezanne's desire to create a work that was both modern and timeless, I find myself constantly noticing different things—the natural community of the nude bathers versus the buildings in the distance, the framing…

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "The Message"
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, a hip-hop group from the South Bronx in New York City, released a single on Sugar Hill Records in 1982 titled “The Message.”

Robert Kennedy in Indianapolis, 1968
The night of April 4, 1968, presidential candidate Robert Kennedy received the news that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. Kennedy was about to speak in Indianapolis and some in his campaign wondered if they should go ahead with the rally. Moments before Kennedy climbed onto a flatbed truck to address the crowd, which had gathered in a light rain, press secretary Frank Mankiewicz gave the candidate a sheet a paper with ideas of what he might say. Kennedy slid it into his pocket without looking at it. Another aide approached with…

by Robert H Jackson Center
Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial, 1939
Denied the right to perform at Constitution Hall by the DAR because of her color, Marian Anderson was permitted to perform at the Lincoln Memorial by Harold Ickes at the urging of Eleanor Roosevelt.
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