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 Katie Clark, 21, Student
Radio
When I was a senior in high school, one of my friend's passed away from a tragic accident. My friend and I decided to attend the funeral together for comfort and support. I picked her up early that morning to shed our tears over him, and after spending some time with the family, we made our way back home. We decided to turn on some music to lighten the mood, when a Modest Mouse song came on the radio- "We All Float On." The two of us started bawling, but by the end of the song we felt we had healed, if only a little bit. We felt weightless.…

by Natalie Huebel, 22 years old and a student at Texas A&M University.
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Due to the oil and gas industry plummeting in 2016, my dad lost his job that he had for over 30 years, right before I was about to leave for college. I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of guilt and anxiety for the duration of that summer. In addition to this, I was unhealthily dwelling on all the new transitions that were to shortly come. Having to live on my own, find a new group of friends, and ultimately, adjust to the course load that university was going to demand of me were all weighing heavy on my mind.

by Jon Parrish Peede, Acting Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities
Dresden after firebombing, 1945
Fresh out of graduate school, Jon Parrish Peede embraced the chance to travel, arriving in Eastern Europe during the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. A last-minute decision to see the opera Don Giovanni in Vienna—and a startling conversation with a local ticket-taker—opened his eyes to the double-edged legacy of American military intervention. During that same trip, a somber pilgrimage to the former German Nazi Auschwitz extermination camp and museum in Poland offered yet another perspective on World War II.

by Jennifer Snoddy, 42, high school history teacher, TAC member
The Stanley Brothers
I am not a churchgoer or a believer, and thus, I have always been left with questions about the deeper meaning of life that could not be easily answered through traditional authorities. Instead, I have had to search for ways to make meaning myself. The importance of this quest to make meaning in a chaotic world was first impressed upon me as a young girl when I listened to my father playing traditional bluegrass songs and was almost physically jolted by the power of a single line, "Such a short time to stay here, such a long time to be gone."…

by Zachary Fine, 19, Student
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I was around seven years old. My dad and I were in the car when the song came on. "My Front Porch Looking In" by the band Lonestar was my favorite song and I knew every word. I loved singing the song at the top of my lungs every time it came on. Today though, I stayed quiet. I had just witnessed yet another argument between my parents and my dad had taken me for a drive around town to cool off. He looked over at me with a confused expression when he saw I wasn't singing. All of a sudden he started singing the song as loud as possible and…

by Cherry Whipple, 52, Teacher
Christmas Carols
When I was in elementary school I didn’t know anything about racial conflict or even recognize there were racial differences between the kids at my school. My classmates were just friends or people I went to school with. Everyone looked different, some had freckles, some had red hair, and some were darker skinned. That all changed the year of the 6th grade Christmas pageant. The program represented waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve with two students representing a brother and sister. All the other students singing various songs. The student…

by George Bailey, 74. Retired helicopter pilot (45 years). Failed musician, proficient amateur illustrator, avid sailor.
John Coltrane, “My Favorite Things”
At the age of 74, I could describe many humanities moments but this one stands out. Sometime in 1961, my brother was driving me home when I first heard Symphony Sid play John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” over the radio. I was a veteran jazz listener at that time but the sound of this recording captivated us. From the time it started, it took less than the 13 odd minutes of the performance to get home but we could not leave the car until the music was finished. Afterwards we turned off the radio and sat in silence for 5 minutes before…

by Yolande Frommer, 78, retired Travel Agent
Mstislav Rostropovich
It was our first real date. His blind date had backed out and I volunteered to hear Rostropovich’s debut in Washington to play the Dvořák. It was not only a memorable concert but a few years later I married my date. We had a wonderful marriage lasting almost 40 years until he passed away. This experience listening to the concerto was the real start of my love for classical music.This concerto will always be “our song.”

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 Odera Tait
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It's not often that we interact with people that have disabilities. When I was in elementary school my mother worked in homecare and took care of a young girl. She was the same age as me but she didn't have the ability to communicate, walk, or even feed herself on her own. I would often frequent her house after school and I remember the first time I had met her. I was very awkward. I didn't know what to do with someone so different from me. Over time I became more comfortable around her. We would watch TV and play around. There was one day in…

by Weaver Academy student
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When I was a sophomore in high school, I had the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York with my high school choir. We had been invited to perform a solo set of three songs under the conduction of our teacher. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I experienced helped me to explore my relationship with music by perceiving the strong emotional connections of my fellow choir members. As I performed and saw how moved my classmates were, it made my experience more touching and memorable. I also was reminded of the hard work that was…

by Alex Blake and the Staff at North Carolina Governor’s School West
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A memorable humanities moment for me was when I was singing an arrangement of "Deep River" at North Carolina Governor’s School West. Our director, Alex Blake, had arranged the piece and we were performing it in front of our peers and parents at our last concert. In that moment I remember feeling really connected to the music and feeling the historical significance of the piece. Alex had shared with us the reason he had arranged the piece and the significance it held in his heart and how he hoped that the choir would give it our all. When I…

by The students of Weaver Academy and the students of Gateway Education Center
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Every year my school allows it's students to participate in an arts fair called Gateway. The students get to share their arts with disabled children or children who are less capable of performing the same actions we are able to perform every day. My first year going was a little nerve racking, but when in the element I was able to truly appreciate and understand the true meaning of why we go. Seeing children whose faces were elated at the sound of a note or seeing them jump around to a favorite tune I was playing seriously made me consider so…

by Blake Wilson, Dickinson College
Franchino Gaffurio, “De Harmonia Musicorum” (1518)
According to the ancient Greeks, harmony is discord rendered concordant, a concept that applied not just to music but everything from the order of the cosmos to human relationships. I have always loved this idea for two reasons: it was predicated not on the absence or erasure of difference, but the reconciliation of it; and it was perfectly embodied in the activity that had occupied a significant part of my career as a college music professor and conductor—choral singing. Upon my retirement, alumni of my choral group from across the decades…

by Averill Corkin, Graduate Student, Harvard University
Averill Corkin
Averill Corkin describes the moment she decided to major in the humanities after seeing a video performance of the song “Du måste finnas” (“You Have to Be There”), in which a female refugee, overcome with loss and fear, questions the existence of God. She notes, despite the language difference, she understood the woman’s experience through the melody and the nature of her performance. She goes on to talk about the power of the humanities to connect us through our appreciation of art regardless of geographic, cultural, and language…

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 Robert D. Newman, President and Director, National Humanities Center
from "The New York Times Magazine," June 25, 2013
In this video clip, Robert D. Newman shares how his friend Brooke Hopkins found meaning for his life after a tragic accident through his love of literature and teaching. This moving account speaks to how literature and the humanities classroom provide tools for coping with the most pressing of human questions — life and death — and allow us to find meaning and purpose when so many of life's pleasures have been stripped away.
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