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 (24 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 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.”

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 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
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 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.

The works we read and watched all caused me…

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. Building on their shared love of Shakespeare, Horowitz’s mother taught her daughter how the act of writing can cultivate ideas, prompt questions, and nurture a deeper appreciation for literature. In this light, Horowitz reflects on how the practice of reading and writing about works such as King Lear and As You Like It provided an opportunity to engage with the world in a…

by Kathryn Bentley, Arts & Science Council
Reading
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
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine l'Engle
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. For centuries philosophers like Gray have sought ways to make sense of the world and better understand our place in it—from the order of the cosmos to the nature of beauty to the chaos and brutality of war. And, for just as many centuries they have inspired, intrigued, and challenged us to consider new ideas, and…

by Dr. Gil Greggs, Director of Academic Programs, St. David’s School, Raleigh NC
Jackie O. and John F. Kennedy engagement photo by Richard Avedon
From readingCrime and Punishmentas a high school senior and the Depression-era masterpiecesAbsalom, Absolom!andLet Us Now Praise Famous Menin college, Gil Greggs describes a personal journey of discovery about the ways literature connects readers to the real world. Later, he describes how the portraits painted by Rembrandt and photographs taken by Richard Avedon help us notice and better appreciate the humanity of the people around us and to perceive hints of their inner lives.

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.Already an accomplished political historian at the time of this moment, Leuchtenburg demonstrates how the questions and ways of seeing in…

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…
Output Formats

atom, dcmes-xml, json, omeka-json, omeka-xml, rss2