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 (119 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…

Portrait of Abigail Adams
In a time when wives were treated like property, Abigail Adams insisted that her husband “Remember the Ladies” when writing the laws of the country and warning him, that “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” Full text of some of her letters can be found athttp://americainclass.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/AAdams-StudentVersion.pdf

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 Carol Quillen, President, Davidson College
Confessions of St. Augustine
Carol Quillen describes how, growing up, her initial insights and perceptions came from what she calls promiscuous reading — reading anything and everything and then finding connections among these very different texts. She consumed Augustine’s Confessions, in the original Latin, which captures and conveys meaning differently than English and enabled her both to grasp and question the complex ways in which language represents reality. These differences in language, like reading, reveal different ways of seeing the world, and by…

by Robert D. Newman, President and Director, National Humanities Center
Francis Bacon, “Study for Figure at the Base of a Crucifixion”
Robert D. Newman describes the experience of encountering Francis Bacon's paintings for the first time.

by W. Robert Connor, trustee emeritus, President and Director, of the National Humanities Center (1989-2002)
Captain John Borling, 1973
In the Hanoi Hilton, the place where the North Vietnamese imprisoned and often tortured American captives during the Vietnam War, the US prisoners used a tapping code to communicate with one another. But they didn’t just send conversational messages, they tapped out poetry, reciting from memory some of the favorites they remembered from school and composing new poems to lift their spirits. Their captors would not allow them to speak to one another. But they didn’t notice the tapping — or didn’t understand what it was about. Here’s…

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
This short poem by Emily Dickinson (a mere six lines), describes how service to others, even in the smallest of ways, can give a life purpose and meaning.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Portrait of Frederick Douglass
In the speech from which this excerpt is taken, Frederick Douglass delivered a powerful argument about the hypocrisy inherent in celebrating America’s founding while continuing to allow slavery. As he notes, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

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 Edward Kinman, age 59, Professor of Geography and Coordinator of the Virginia Geographic Alliance
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Walking the cobble-stone streets of a Bolivian village, I witnessed how a new clinic in a medically underserved area hadn’t made much of an impact. I was visiting a remote outpost to better understand the challenges in promoting health in poor Latin American communities. People come here only as a last resort because of the relative high costs and they are suspicious and reluctant to enter a facility staffed by foreigners. Only two came to see the doctor during the three days we were there. Likewise, latrines build by the clinic hadn’t…

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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.

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 Caitlin Patton, North Carolina Humanities Council
Caitlin Patton
Caitlin Patton discusses how the work of Ted Fischer, an anthropologist focused on food culture, specifically the cultivation of broccoli in Guatemala, inspired her choice to study at Vanderbilt University.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "The Message"
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, a hip-hop group from the South Bronx in New York City, released a single on Sugar Hill Records in 1982 titled “The Message.”

by William “Bro” Adams, Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities
Glenn Gray, "The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle"
NEH Chairman William “Bro” Adams shares how philosophy professor and World War II veteran Glenn Gray and his book The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle helped him come to terms with his own experiences in Vietnam.

by Kamille Bostick, Vice President, Education Programs, Levine Museum of the New South
Kamille Bostick
Kamille Bostick shares the moment when she first saw the PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize and discusses how the revelations of that film history have contributed to her career and her long interest in history, especially the lives and accomplishments of African Americans.

by Sarah Arnold, 38, English Teacher
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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
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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 Kevin Guthrie, founder/president, ITHAKA
Ulysses and the Sirens, illustration from an antique Greek vase
About seven months ago, our son was in a tragic ski accident, and was in a coma for close to a month. And during that really painful time, we didn’t know what was going to happen. Was he ever going to wake up? Was he not going to wake up? I, myself, couldn’t sleep and I was haunted all the time by thoughts of what might happen to him in the future, and how did this happen, and thinking about the past. And I remember thinking in one of those late-night moments about “The Odyssey” and about the description of the sirens on the banks. Of…
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