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 (6 total)

by Nancy J. Hirschmann, University of Pennsylvania
G.W.F. Hegel
As a 21-year-old senior in college, Nancy Hirschmann encountered—and was forever changed by—German philosopher Hegel’s notoriously difficult passages in The Phenomenology of Spirit. Suddenly, she “broke through the wall” of the concept of the “master-slave dialectic” and its notion of consciousness and recognition. The act of reading a text, deciphering it, and understanding how it translates into a significant meaning kindled Hirschmann’s engagement with political theory. For Hirschmann, grappling with Hegel’s work…

by Esther Mackintosh, President of the Federation of State Humanities Councils
Dairy farm in winter
Esther Mackintosh, President of the Federation of State Humanities Councils, explains how a single letter from her father offered solace during an especially trying period of her life. As a graduate student facing an uncertain future, Mackintosh took refuge in her father’s written words, which described his own challenges as a newly married farmer during the Great Depression. His letter concluded with a question posed to his daughter: “Would it help you to know that things usually turn out alright?” Thanks to her father’s words,…

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 Larry Kramer, president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Religious symbols
Larry Kramer, president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, went to college expecting to become a doctor, but taking a course on religious ethics and moral issues shifted his direction. To him, the humanities allow us to be introspective and to understand our lives from a larger point of view, which leads to a more revealing and enriching human experience.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 Brooke Andrade, Director of the Library, National Humanities Center
A modern statue of the Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus
I started learning Latin in seventh grade because I decided it was the most difficult course I could take, and I had something to prove. I was an economically disadvantaged student in a wealthy private school, and all of my classmates knew it. I would never live in their mansions, or wear their expensive clothes, or go on their exotic vacations, so I set about making myself at least academically equal. Like most grade school students who read Latin, the poetry of Catullus was some of the first “real” literature I encountered. After the dry,…

Photograph of Emily Dickinson
The simple elegance of this poem has stayed with me ever since I first read it as an assignment for sophomore English. And it has become something of a personal motto as I feel a kinship with the author.

I often find myself reciting it to others as a way of explaining why I do the things I do and to help them realize that even the smallest act of kindness is important. After all, what seems like a small thing to you can make a huge difference in the life of someone else.

As I am now deciding on a college major and thinking about my future…
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