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 (126 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 Stephen Kidd, Executive Director, National Humanities Alliance
Map of shootings at Kent State University, May 1970
Stephen Kidd, Executive Director of the National Humanities Alliance, recalls a trip to Kent State University that he made as a high school student while growing up in Ohio. This visit to the site of the 1970 Kent State shootings provided a greater historical context to an event that had cleaved his home state several years prior. For Kidd, the campus tour crystallized the connection between physical spaces and the stories that surround them.

by Stephen Kidd, Executive Director, National Humanities Alliance
Calligrapher at the 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Stephen Kidd, Executive Director of the National Humanities Alliance, explains how his involvement with several projects during his time at the Smithsonian illuminated the powerful role of the humanities in cultivating cross-cultural community. One project, which focused on food cultures, celebrated culinary legacies as the owner of a New York Jewish delicatessen passed down the business to an immigrant from the Dominican Republic. Another project considered how the AIDS quilt fostered a sense of community in the midst of a public health…

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.

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 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,…

by Morna O’Neill, age 41, art history professor
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
My family always visited art museums when I was a child. I’m not quite sure why, as we never talked about the art, and I wondered, in secret, what exactly we were supposed to be doing there. When I was about eight years old, I read a book that answered that question: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. It is the story of two children—a brother and a sister—who run away from home to solve the mystery of a sculpture: was it a long-lost work by Michelangelo? They hide in the Metropolitan Museum…

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 Molly A. Warsh, Assistant Professor of World History, University of Pittsburgh
Family tree
My Humanities Moment happened when my husband and I received the results of the genetic testing kits we’d ordered. The stories that my husband’s DNA told matched up pretty closely with his family’s history, but mine delivered some surprises. In addition to indicating a lot of northwestern European and Central European ancestors, which I expected, my report pointed to Scandinavian, West African, and North African ancestors! This all came as news to my whole family. We wondered: how did these encounters happen? What were the circumstances…

by Matthew Booker, associate professor of American environmental history, North Carolina State University
Fishing camp
I like picnics. Picnics take us outside, to share food with people we like. Those are my three favorite things, and picnics offer all three with a minimum of fuss or cost. Every picnic is a special occasion. But one stands out because it showed me how much we can learn from deeply observing the world around us. Such observation joins us to the experiences of those who have come before, and perhaps even see through their eyes. It is a humanities experience. One summer day, to celebrate a birthday, my spouse and I packed up our little girls and…

by Andromeda Crowell, 27, Science Teacher, Orange High School, Hillsborough, NC
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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 Scott, 34, former journalist
The Middle East
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 Michael Fontaine, 40 years old, Professor of Classics at Cornell University
The Vatican
A single question changed the course of my life.

When I first began studying Latin in 1996, it was a dead language, no doubt about it. It was pointless to try to speak it; everyone agreed the grammar was just too hard.

Legend had it, though, that a single man—a priest, somewhere in Rome, Italy—could do it. The last man alive who could speak Latin! I had to find him.

And after endless blind turns, I did. It was spring 1997, and I was spending the semester abroad in Rome.

I got up very early one morning because the immortal…

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I feel robbed that I did not get the opportunity to ask my Great Uncle Burl what it was like to train in North Africa or share stories of being at the Duomo in Florence. I was a young teen when he passed, and he did not share the horrors he saw as part of the 316th Medical Battalion in the liberation of Italy. Then as an adult, I received the precious gift of his scrapbooks, which have given me a little insight. One particular annotation on the back of a photo caught my eye. Among images of young men in uniform going from the desert to…

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 My teachers
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When I began AP World in my sophomore year of high school, I knew virtually nothing about the religion of Islam. So when we began our unit on the Islamic Empire, my experience was something akin to culture shock. I had never realized how similar Islam was to Christianity, and the more I learned about the events of that time period, the more I began to realize *why* I was so ignorant. The interactions between the Western world and the Muslim people had consistently been tense throughout history, despite having very similar religions. This…

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…

Star Trek: The Next Generation
One of my humanities moments happened while I was watching old reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation. There is a character in that show named Data, an android who is constantly seeking his own humanity. At one point the crew of the Enterprise finds the sister of a fellow crew member who had previously died in the line of duty. Many of the characters in the show describe how the sister reminded them of their lost friend, but Data puts it the best. He supposedly doesn’t experience emotions, but his description of his own…

by Ciara Tolbert
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This skit was made because of multiple inspirations, but my contribution was the misuse of the word 'retard'. More days than not, I will be sitting on the bus hearing middle schoolers use the word retarded to describe something that is stupid or silly. I assume that they don't know any better and that it's not my place to correct them. Creating this skit made me realize that when it comes to anything like that, it's important to take the time to correct someone when they something offensive.
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