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 (28 total)

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 Yael Lazar, PhD Candidate in Religious Studies at Duke University and a curator for the Humanities Moments Project
Wabi Sabi.jpg
As part of my undergraduate degree in Asian studies, I took a class on Haiku, a traditional form of Japanese poetry. At the time, I knew nothing about Japan beyond its youth’s obsession with Hello Kitty and similar colorful animated characters. In analyzing and understanding the magic of these three-lines poems, we talked a lot about the traditional Japanese aesthetics on which they are based. And it was nothing like Hello Kitty.

Traditional Japanese aesthetics–which can be found in their well-known gardens, teahouses, and architecture…

by Pam Su'a, Social Studies/World Languages Administrator, Jordan School District
Chris Kimball's Mason.JPG
Working with a sixth grade class in Utah to help them figure out "solutions to current issues" as required by our state social studies standards, our class wanted to do more than collect cans or pick up trash. The 11-year olds thought they could really figure out how to help someone if they knew who needed their help. We set them up via keypals with a class of students in a small, outlying village in Uzbekistan. (Very often Fortune 500 companies donate computers to third world countries to help students.) After several sessions of emailing…

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 Megan Webster, Educator
The Bosporus Strait
I have traveled many places and have tried to capture what I found unique, beautiful and different. But, this place, along the Bosporus Strait which merges the European region of Istanbul, Turkey, with the Asian region of Istanbul, Turkey, to be one of my favorites. At first I remember seeing this building and quickly trying to get out my camera to snap a photo before the ferry we were on quickly passed. However, it wasn’t until later I realized that the quick photo I managed to take of an abandoned building revealed more than I expected. …

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 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 Nancy Gardner, educational consultant and NBCT teacher
East German citizens climb the Berlin Wall
I remember seeing the images on the television, in newspapers, and in magazines. It was such an epic event. The Berlin Wall was coming down, something I never imagined would happen. As a child in the 50s and 60s, I remember bomb drills during elementary school. Several of my friends had fallout shelters in their homes. I used to be afraid of bombs, of communists, of Khrushchev. I tried to understand how a wall could divide the city of Berlin into two very different places. And then, in 1989, the unbelievable happened. I had just accepted an…

by Skye Shirley, age 28, Latin Teacher in Boston, MA
“Helen,” by Euripides
While taking Latin in high school, I became fascinated by the story of the Trojan War. I loved the interconnected perspectives of soldiers, royalty, deities, and ordinary people. The family trees and catalogues of soldiers seemed endless, and I was thrilled to discover that each individual inspired stories, plays, and art. As I began to master the intricacies of the myths, I prided myself on recognizing the differences between movies like “Troy” or Disney’s “Hercules” and the original story. I watched eagerly to notice what they got…

by Andromeda Crowell, 27, Science Teacher, Orange High School, Hillsborough, NC
Crowell-02.jpg
During college I was on my way to becoming a scientist when I decided to get my education license on the side. During my student teaching internship, I was set to teach my mostly anti-science group of students a controversial topic in biology. I was not really looking forward to it, but I put my heart into designing lessons anyway, and actually an amazing thing happened. During one of the activities I designed, I noticed that not only was everyone in the class engaged, but they were genuinely curious and asking questions. After we finished…

by J. Robinson
USA-China.JPG
I had the opportunity to be able to sit with a professor from North Carolina A&T State University as she spoke about her life leading up to where she is today, starting in China and now being in Greensboro, North Carolina. While sitting in conversation with this lady, she tells me about how when she was younger, she went to school in China normal as expected. However when she reached the point in her schooling where we in the States would be starting high school, a war broke out in China and all the schools were closed. She explained to me how…

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 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.”

Rosie the Riveter
In this moment, a high school math teacher discusses the documentary Top Secret Rosies: The Female “Computers” of WWII. Beyond the awe for these women who took part in American military operations as human computers during World War II, this contributor is inspired by a statement made by one of the women in the movie, crediting her high school math teacher for her interest and advanced skills in mathematics. As a high school math teacher herself, this contributor understands the impact she can have on the life of her students,…

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 Juan Felipe Herrera, performance artist, activist, and U.S. Poet Laureate in 2015
Three Blind Mice
Juan Felipe Herrera, a performance artist, activist, and U.S. poet laureate in 2015, recalls how his third-grade teacher’s compliment on his singing voice led to his lifelong belief in using his voice to encourage the beauty in the voices, stories, and, experiences of others. He goes on to speak about the power of the humanities to warm communities, create peace, and, move hearts.To celebrate its 40th year anniversary of grant making, programming, and partnerships that connect Californians to each other, California Humanities invited a group…

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 Julie Mullis, Wilkes Community College
Mason-Dixon Line
Community college teacher Julie Mullis describes how a classroom experience with students from diverse backgrounds and perspectives created a memorable and “multi-colored” sense of place and belonging.
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