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 (12 total)

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 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 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 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 Nancy Gardner, educational consultant and NBCT teacher
East German citizens climb the Berlin Wall
I remember seeing the images on the television, in newspapers, and in magazines. It was such an epic event. The Berlin Wall was coming down, something I never imagined would happen. As a child in the 50s and 60s, I remember bomb drills during elementary school. Several of my friends had fallout shelters in their homes. I used to be afraid of bombs, of communists, of Khrushchev. I tried to understand how a wall could divide the city of Berlin into two very different places. And then, in 1989, the unbelievable happened. I had just accepted an…

by Skye Shirley, age 28, Latin Teacher in Boston, MA
“Helen,” by Euripides
While taking Latin in high school, I became fascinated by the story of the Trojan War. I loved the interconnected perspectives of soldiers, royalty, deities, and ordinary people. The family trees and catalogues of soldiers seemed endless, and I was thrilled to discover that each individual inspired stories, plays, and art. As I began to master the intricacies of the myths, I prided myself on recognizing the differences between movies like “Troy” or Disney’s “Hercules” and the original story. I watched eagerly to notice what they got…

by Molly A. Warsh, Assistant Professor of World History, University of Pittsburgh
Family tree
My Humanities Moment happened when my husband and I received the results of the genetic testing kits we’d ordered. The stories that my husband’s DNA told matched up pretty closely with his family’s history, but mine delivered some surprises. In addition to indicating a lot of northwestern European and Central European ancestors, which I expected, my report pointed to Scandinavian, West African, and North African ancestors! This all came as news to my whole family. We wondered: how did these encounters happen? What were the circumstances…

by Andromeda Crowell, 27, Science Teacher, Orange High School, Hillsborough, NC
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During college I was on my way to becoming a scientist when I decided to get my education license on the side. During my student teaching internship, I was set to teach my mostly anti-science group of students a controversial topic in biology. I was not really looking forward to it, but I put my heart into designing lessons anyway, and actually an amazing thing happened. During one of the activities I designed, I noticed that not only was everyone in the class engaged, but they were genuinely curious and asking questions. After we finished…

by Michael Fontaine, 40 years old, Professor of Classics at Cornell University
The Vatican
A single question changed the course of my life.

When I first began studying Latin in 1996, it was a dead language, no doubt about it. It was pointless to try to speak it; everyone agreed the grammar was just too hard.

Legend had it, though, that a single man—a priest, somewhere in Rome, Italy—could do it. The last man alive who could speak Latin! I had to find him.

And after endless blind turns, I did. It was spring 1997, and I was spending the semester abroad in Rome.

I got up very early one morning because the immortal…

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I feel robbed that I did not get the opportunity to ask my Great Uncle Burl what it was like to train in North Africa or share stories of being at the Duomo in Florence. I was a young teen when he passed, and he did not share the horrors he saw as part of the 316th Medical Battalion in the liberation of Italy. Then as an adult, I received the precious gift of his scrapbooks, which have given me a little insight. One particular annotation on the back of a photo caught my eye. Among images of young men in uniform going from the desert to…
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