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 (21 total)

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.”

by Alexander Knirim, Bayreuth University & The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress
Benedict Anderson, “Imagined Communities”
Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism compelled Alexander Knirim, then a young historian, to re-think the role of imagination in history. Knirim recounts how his original misunderstanding, that we can reconstruct historic truth, was challenged by Anderson’s book and evolved into an appreciation of Anderson’s exegesis.

by Kristen Shedd, Fullerton College & The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
An early encounter with muckraking American novelist Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle exposed Kristen Shedd to issues surrounding human rights and animal rights in the early 20th century. For Shedd, the 1906 novel exposed the intersections of fiction, policy, history, and social justice.Sinclair’s story prompted her to seek answers to questions: How did this novel prompt policy change? How did it capture the struggles of historical actors and immigrants in the early 20th century? What other novels did Sinclair write? What institutional…

by Edward J. Balleisen
"Betting on Zero" by Ted Braun
Several weeks ago I had occasion to watch the new documentary, Betting on Zero. This fascinating film presents several interlinked stories, all related to the founding and growth of Herbalife, a multi-level-marketing company that sells nutritional supplements, weight loss concoctions, and the “business opportunity” to distribute these products. Among the narrative threads: the basic business model of this enterprise, which depends on the perpetual recruitment of new salespeople (this task is facilitated by revival-style meetings…

by Victoria Ade, 29, Social Studies Teacher
mom.png
When I was two years old, my parents filed for divorce. At the age of two, I don't recall this time of my life but what I do remember is where it led me. As I grew up as an only child living in a home run by my single mother, she became my ultimate role model and was always my biggest supporter and my best friend.

Fast forward to high school, and the boyfriend my mom had since I can remember (about 4 years old) was moving out. In the wake of this massive change in both our lives, I had no idea that my mom was personally struggling with…

by Carly Hill, 34, teacher
9-11.jpeg
I was a brand new college freshman getting ready to attend my Political Science class that started at 8:45am on September 11, 2001. I heard the news on the radio when I first woke up and I thought it wasn't real. I turned on the TV and still couldn't believe it was real. I didn't know what else to do except go to class and so I did. My professor came in the room sobbing and she told us all to go home and be with our families. We all walked out of the lecture hall, scattering across the green, going our different directions. I began walking to…

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 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 Matthew Booker, associate professor of American environmental history, North Carolina State University
Fishing camp
I like picnics. Picnics take us outside, to share food with people we like. Those are my three favorite things, and picnics offer all three with a minimum of fuss or cost. Every picnic is a special occasion. But one stands out because it showed me how much we can learn from deeply observing the world around us. Such observation joins us to the experiences of those who have come before, and perhaps even see through their eyes. It is a humanities experience. One summer day, to celebrate a birthday, my spouse and I packed up our little girls and…

by Scott, 34, former journalist
The Middle East
I was a newspaper reporter covering the War in Iraq in the late 2000s. My assignment was exciting, but often lonely. I bounced from town to town, usually embedded with the U.S. Army. At the end of a long day, there often was no one to talk to, grab a bite with or even watch a bootleg movie. What I did have, though, was a paperback copy of The Great War for Civilization by Robert Fisk. The book helped describe the near-history events that led to the real-time history I was witnessing on a daily basis. Through thorough research and…

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.His mother, an elementary school teacher, would read her son stories of the monument’s construction, instilling a lifelong passion for history. Vinson goes on to explain how history provides a “much greater context to the things happening in our daily lives.”

by Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, 28th Chief Justice of the State of California
The Hawaiian Filipino community welcomes a Philippine navy captain
Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye is the 28th Chief Justice of the State of California. She recalls her experiences as a student in a humanities class in college, her upbringing in a Filipino community of hardworking women eager to pass on their traditions, and her realization that the humanities teach us to celebrate and respect the stories and uniqueness of people.To celebrate its 40th year anniversary of grant making, programming, and partnerships that connect Californians to each other, California Humanities invited a group of 40 prominent…

by Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California
Willa Cather ca. 1912
Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California, reflects on her life growing up in New Mexico and how a low grade on a poetry analysis assignment in college encouraged her to master the craft of writing. She notes how her writing abilities and exposure to the humanities served her well in a career in government and higher education. To celebrate its 40th year anniversary of grant making, programming, and partnerships that connect Californians to each other, California Humanities invited a group of 40 prominent Californians to…

by Kamille Bostick, Vice President, Education Programs, Levine Museum of the New South
Civil Rights leaders marching in Washington D.C..jpeg
Kamille Bostick shares the moment when she first saw the PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize and discusses how the revelations of that film history have contributed to her career and her long interest in history, especially the lives and accomplishments of African Americans.

by Carter Thompson
New York, NY
In this video submission, artist Carter Thompson discusses how a recent exhibit on the Harlem Renaissance revealed some of the fascinating history of the century-old building in which he lives and helped him feel a connection across the decades with those who lived in the neighborhood before him.

Phillis Wheatley
In this video Marlene Daut describes how teaching literature to college students enables them to both understand their lives and history better, as well as be inspired regarding their possible futures.

by Ken Burns, documentary filmmaker
Portrait of young Abraham Lincoln
Ken Burns describes how lines from a historic speech given by 29-year-old Abraham Lincoln have “haunted and inspired” him for nearly 40 years. Expanding on what is revealed in those sentences, Burns discusses how they speak not only to Lincoln’s basic character and optimism, qualities that proved essential to his presidency. He goes on to note that Lincoln’s words, here and elsewhere, are suggestive of what is best in the American character.“A handful of sentences” from Lincoln’s 1838 Springfield speech on national security left a…

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.Across generations, cultural divides, venues, and artistic voices, the power of lyric poetry to capture and convey powerful feeling is undeniable. And when poetry is performed and embodied, “brought to life” if…

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.”
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