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 (20 total)

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 Mab Segrest, Professor Emerita, Connecticut College
Lesbian Feminist Voice
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 Liv McKinney, Duke '20, Biology Major
The Godfather (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
To get an ALP (Arts, Literature, & Philosophy) 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 Jamie Lathan, 39, teacher and school administrator, husband, father, son, brother, friend.
Jackie Robinson
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
Magician-Feist.JPG
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 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 James Cannizzaro
imgres 1.05.16 PM.jpg
Throughout my senior year of high school, I got to work alongside my classmates and my teacher, Mrs. Woods, as artists. This was our AP year, so our classroom acted as a sort of studio for all of us as we got to individually work on our concentrations. My concentration took heavy influence from surrealists like Beksinki and comic artists like Ashley Wood. Every so often, Mrs. Woods would recommend me books and artists to check out, notably architectural pieces and works by H.R. Giger. This new inspiration led my art in a new direction, and I…

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 Kathryn Bentley, Arts & Science Council
Kathryn Bentley
In this clip, educator Kathryn Bentley discusses an early moment in her teaching career when she came to realize the role emotions play in learning to read and that for some students this is the key element of instruction.

by Deborah Jung, Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District
Deborah Jung
Librarian Deborah Jung describes the moment she discovered libraries and the riches they offer, which fueled her passion for opening the world of literature to children.

by William “Bro” Adams, Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities
Glenn Gray, "The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle"
NEH Chairman William “Bro” Adams shares how philosophy professor and World War II veteran Glenn Gray and his book The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle helped him come to terms with his own experiences in Vietnam.

by Dr. Gil Greggs, Director of Academic Programs, St. David’s School, Raleigh NC
Rembrandt van Rijn, "Portrait of Aechje Claesdr"
In this video, Gil Greggs from St. David’s School in Raleigh, NC, recalls a series of moments in which he came to appreciate the power of literature and the arts to capture and convey the power and subtlety of human experience.

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 Brooke Andrade, Director of the Library, National Humanities Center
A modern statue of the Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus
I started learning Latin in seventh grade because I decided it was the most difficult course I could take, and I had something to prove. I was an economically disadvantaged student in a wealthy private school, and all of my classmates knew it. I would never live in their mansions, or wear their expensive clothes, or go on their exotic vacations, so I set about making myself at least academically equal. Like most grade school students who read Latin, the poetry of Catullus was some of the first “real” literature I encountered. After the dry,…

by Jonathan Lethem, novelist
Marvel Comics, “Omega The Unknown”
In this podcast excerpt with National Humanities Center Director Robert D. Newman, award-winning novelist Jonathan Lethem discusses how he came to understand of the power of fiction in our lives through the short-lived Marvel comic book series “Omega The Unknown.”Lethem describes how the unconventional storytelling in this comic book, focusing on the ways that superheroes shape the imaginations of young readers, continues to inform his own approach to fiction.

by Robert D. Newman, President and Director, National Humanities Center
Kurt Vonnegut, 1972
In this excerpt of a talk given at the National Humanities Center, Robert D. Newman discusses an exemplary humanities moment, when Kurt Vonnegut responded to the banning and burning of Vonnegut’s book Slaughterhouse Five by school officials in Drake, North Dakota in 1973.Newman notes that this series of historical events involving the kinds of literature we read and teach “reveals the enduring truths in a democratic culture.”

by David Denby, author, journalist, film critic
"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain
David Denby discusses works of literature that influenced his thinking as a child and as a teenager. Looking back, these books transformed the reader he is.
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