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 (89 total)

by William Ferris, former Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities
James Joyce, 1915
In this excerpt from a conversation with William Ferris, former Chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, he shares how he came to see himself in Stephen Dedalus, the protagonist of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, who declares that he will fly from the nets of “nationality, language, and religion.” He notes that at the time he encountered the character he and Stephen were about the same age and describes how he identified his own struggles as a young Southerner with those Dedalus experiences as…

by C. Allen Parker, Partner, Cravath, Swaine and Moore, LLP
Vincent van Gogh, "Wheatfield with Crows"
In what I believe was the latter part of the 1980s, I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to a van Gogh exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum. And for the first time in my life, I wore one of those machines around my neck, where you listen to headphones and you hear somebody describe what it is you’re going to see. It was a brand-new experience.

The narrator was the then-director of the Metropolitan Museum, Philippe de Montebello, and at the introductory part of the exhibit, I was really struck by the quality of what he was saying. It was…

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 Steve Oreskovic, Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District
Steve Oreskovic
History teacher Steve Oreskovic discusses how he gets his students to empathize with the feelings of injustice among colonists in the run up to the American Revolution, helping them gain a richer context for learning about history.

by Emily Martin
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Last year, my dance class at school went to a county wide “Dance Day,” where public school dance programs from all over my area came together to perform for each other and take free master classes. I had been twice before, so I knew what to expect; however I did not know what class I would be participating in. After the welcome ceremony, I was told which room number my class would be in. When I entered the room, there were drums lined up all along the mirrors and a man dressed in colorful clothes, who welcomed me at the door. It was an…

by Ben Vinson III, Dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, George Washington University
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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.

by Olivia K. Moore
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A few months ago I visited a local art museum and there was one particular exhibit that caught my interest. It was a photography exhibit by Lucinda Devlin. She had many different collections but the one I found myself looking at the longest was a collection of pictures she took in execution rooms in the United States. Most of them were lethal injection rooms, but some were electric shock. Death sentences are not something unheard of in the United States and are not uncommon, however there has been a long debate about whether or not they are…

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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 Waldenin 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 my…

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 Olivia Azzarita
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A few summers ago, I volunteered at a summer camp at a local school working with children to create art and other goods to sell at a market. Most of the children came from the school, or at least the area, but there was one family at the camp that had come from Japan. The children, ages 9 and 11, spoke almost no English, and their mother, Reiko, stayed with them to translate and help them adapt to the new environment. But even she struggled with English and American culture. So I took it upon myself to stay with them the whole week as long as…

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 Ken Burns, documentary filmmaker
from Ken Burns' "America"
In this short video, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns recalls having Robert Penn Warren read a passage from his novel All The King’s Men during the production of the Huey Long portion of his documentary series “Ken Burns’ America.” He notes that it is voices like Warren’s that have helped animate his work, bringing to life his own journey and that which he has tried to share through his films.

Betty Reid Soskin
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 explore what the humanities mean to them. For more information visit calhum.org/about/we-are-the-humanities.

by The POC lives that where lost and impacted to share
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Growing up as a light skin slightly racially ambiguous black girl I never really experienced true discrimination. It took the violence toward POC to open my eyes and realize that racism isn't dead its just been lurking in the underbelly of our society. There have been several shows to come out discussing this difficult topic of race and privilege and these made me think about how hard it would be to live in a black mans shoes. How everyday can prove to be a new struggle possibly facing violence or various forms of discrimination. Being around…

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.

by Terry Tempest Williams, author, conservationist, activist
from "Peterson's Field Guide to Western Birds"
In this video recollection, author and conservation activist Terry Tempest Williams describes her first encounter with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and the ethical questions shared by her grandmother about taking personal responsibility for the natural world. As she says of this moment, “On that day, I became an environmentalist.”

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 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.

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Craig Watson
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 explore what the humanities mean to them. For more information visit calhum.org/about/we-are-the-humanities.

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…
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