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 (17 total)

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 Scott, 34, former journalist
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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.

by Jaroslav Folda, N. Ferebee Taylor Professor emeritus, UNC
Plutarch's Lives
At the end of my sophomore year in high school, during the awards ceremony in June, I received my varsity letter for playing football. And then my history teacher, Mr. Harvey, got up and gave three academic awards. To my complete surprise, I received one of those prizes. It was a book of Plutarch’s Lives, which was inscribed to me in part as follows: “This book ... represents his persistent toil toward clear, precise and meaningful expression in history at the Paris American High School.” In addition, Mr. Harvey had also written…

by Tim Miller, Salisbury University
Paul-Émile Boutigny, "Henri de La Rochejacquelein at the Battle of Cholet in 1793"
My humanities moment came in preparing to teach a course on the French Revolution. I am by training a Byzantinist and medievalist, but got my job as a world history teacher. To fill in the gap and also since I could read French, the acting department chair gave me the job of teaching the French Revolution, even though I had gotten a D in that subject at Haverford College. So I did some background reading, and one of the things that I remember was the wild statements of Jacobin party leaders in their attempts to bring virtue to the French…

by Steve Oreskovic, Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District
Steve Oreskovic
History teacher Steve Oreskovic discusses how he gets his students to empathize with the feelings of injustice among colonists in the run up to the American Revolution, helping them gain a richer context for learning about history.

by Kamille Bostick, Vice President, Education Programs, Levine Museum of the New South
Kamille Bostick
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 Ken Burns, documentary filmmaker
Ken Burns, documentary filmmaker
In this video submission, Ken Burns recounts how formative experiences, both deeply personal and as a young person growing up in the midst of the Civil Rights era, have shaped his perspective on American history and have informed nearly all his documentary projects.

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.

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.

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.”

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

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.

by David Denby, author, journalist, film critic
Herbert von Karajan
David Denby discusses hearing Herbert von Karajan conducting a performance of Mahler’s 9th Symphony.
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