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 (34 total)

by Brian Finke, 21, Student at Texas A&M
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
While I was a teenager about to go off to college, I watched Death of a Salesman at the theater. At the time I was struggling with the transition I was about to embark on, but I found a deep connection to Biff's character. I felt like I was always running a never ending marathon for the amusement of those around me. After seeing Biff finally stand up to Willy and tell him that he was tired of trying to be something that he could not achieve, I felt a sense of clarity. I had to pursue what I wanted in life not just seek the approval of…

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 Emily Coccia, the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress
Adrienne Rich
In middle school, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird inspired Emily Coccia to imagine the possibilities of the law to bring communities closer to justice. In college, it was the world of critical theory—such as feminist and queer theory—however, that helped her understand the other paths available to those wishing to enact social change.

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 Peter A. Benoliel
Virginia Woolf
Some years ago, I was asked to give a lecture to students enrolled in a small university’s humanities program describing the personal epiphany I experienced which led to my passion for the humanities. Try as I might, I could not think of an isolated, single experience but rather a series of moments that stretch back to my childhood and have “stuck to my ribs” over a lifetime. A very early memory: perhaps at the age of six or seven, I became mesmerized by Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” and repeatedly played it on the phonograph…

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 Sarah Arnold, 38, English Teacher
To Kill a Mocking Bird.jpg
I grew up in a very small town in rural Wisconsin. When I looked at my classmates it was like looking in a mirror. Because of that, I never realized that there were many people who were facing hardships because of their minority status and people who were taking advantage of them. Fast forward to my sophomore year of high school. Mrs. Shaw made it her mission to open our eyes. She wanted to expose us to the realities of this world. While I questioned it at the time, she showed us the entire Eyes on the Prize documentary. She would…

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 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…

Map of Walden Pond
In my late 20s, I knew that I wanted to make a vocational shift, but I struggled to find the courage to do so. One day, I came across the lines of Transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau. “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation,” he wrote in Walden in 1854. Though Thoreau lapsed into an unfortunate gender bias (as women may lead lives of quiet desperation, too), I still took refuge in his words. Reflecting on my own life (which felt quietly desperate, I realized) imparted me with the audacity to make a change and follow…

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 Luis Rodriguez, poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014
Los Angeles public library
Luis Rodriguez, poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014, explains how his love for books and libraries rescued him from a life of trouble. He notes that through books, he discovered more about people and their lives, which encouraged his interest in writing about injustice and activism.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 explore what the humanities mean to them. For more information visit…

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 Theresa Pierce, Rowan County Early College
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Teacher Theresa Pierce discusses how the accumulation and sharing of personal narratives help generate individual moments of realization among students as they also help build a sense of community.

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 Scott Gartlan, Executive Director, Charlotte Teachers Institute
Arthur Miller
In this video, Scott Gartlan discusses his reaction to seeing Arthur Miller’s 1947 play All My Sons and seeing deep connections between the play’s narrative and his own life story. He goes on to reflect on the power of storytelling to bridge generations and personal circumstances.Witnessing the performance of Miller’s play was a “flashbulb moment” that deepened Gartlan’s appreciation of “what art can do in representing life.”

by Steve Earle, singer-songwriter
San Antonio Express, September 12, 1964
Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Steve Earle discusses the impact of witnessing his father write a letter to the Texas governor on behalf of a condemned man in San Antonio. Having already begun to reflect on the importance of political engagement and the ethics of capital punishment, Earle felt especially moved by both the book and film version of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood in the late 1960s. In tandem, these experiences contributed to his becoming a passionate advocate against the death penalty.
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