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 (105 total)

by David Denby, author, journalist, film critic
"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain
What work of literature do you remember transforming you and hooking you as a reader?

by David Denby, author, journalist, film critic
"Nighthawks at the Diner," by Edward Hopper
Does a humanities moment look different for you and I than it does for somebody who’s digitally connected all the time?

by David Denby, author, journalist, film critic
Herbert von Karajan
David Denby discusses hearing Herbert von Karajan conducting a performance of Mahler’s 9th Symphony.

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 David Denby, author, journalist, film critic
David Denby, author, journalist, film critic
Have we lost the metaphysical? And how do we regain it?

by Robert H Jackson Center
Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial, 1939
Denied the right to perform at Constitution Hall by the DAR because of her color, Marian Anderson was permitted to perform at the Lincoln Memorial by Harold Ickes at the urging of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Robert Kennedy in Indianapolis, 1968
The night of April 4, 1968, presidential candidate Robert Kennedy received the news that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. Kennedy was about to speak in Indianapolis and some in his campaign wondered if they should go ahead with the rally. Moments before Kennedy climbed onto a flatbed truck to address the crowd, which had gathered in a light rain, press secretary Frank Mankiewicz gave the candidate a sheet a paper with ideas of what he might say. Kennedy slid it into his pocket without looking at it. Another aide approached with…

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.”

Paul Cezanne, “The Bathers”
When I first encountered Paul Cezanne's most famous painting, The Bathers, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art I was struck by the way the artist was able to depict subtle differences among the figures even though none of them have distinct facial features. Over time, as I've revisited this amazing work and learned more about Cezanne's desire to create a work that was both modern and timeless, I find myself constantly noticing different things—the natural community of the nude bathers versus the buildings in the distance, the framing…

by Ina Dixon
300px-Battle_of_the_Bulge.jpg
A letter from Ina's grandfather, written just before the Battle of the Bulge in WWII.

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

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
When my hero, Sonia Sotomayor, arrived at Princeton in 1972, she was a quietly diligent student, but one whose working-class background, ethnicity, and gender set her apart from most of her classmates. Princeton had only recently begun admitting women and there were very few Latinos (only 20) of either gender among its elite ranks. During the spring of that first year, she took a class on Contemporary Latin America with historian Peter Winn, who — on grading her first paper — pointed out the idiomatic and grammatical errors she had made…

by Robert D. Newman, President and Director, National Humanities Center
Kurt Vonnegut, 1972
In this excerpt of a talk given at the National Humanities Center, Robert D. Newman discusses an exemplary humanities moment, when Kurt Vonnegut responded to the banning and burning of Vonnegut’s book Slaughterhouse Five by school officials in Drake, North Dakota in 1973.

Steve Jobs at Stanford University
Drawing from some of the most pivotal points in his life, Steve Jobs, chief executive officer and co-founder of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, urged graduates to pursue their dreams and see the opportunities in life’s setbacks — including death itself — at the university’s 114th Commencement on June 12, 2005. Transcript of Steve Jobs’ address.

U. S. Representative David Price
In this excerpt from a podcast with National Humanities Center Robert Newman, U. S. Representative David Price reflects on the transformative experience of reading the work of Reinhold Niebuhr.

by Jonathan Lethem, novelist
"Omega The Unknown"
In this podcast excerpt with National Humanities Center Director Robert Newman, award-winning novelist Jonathan Lethem discusses how he came to understand of the power of fiction in our lives through the short-lived Marvel comic book series, “Omega The Unknown.”

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 Robert D. Newman, President and Director, National Humanities Center
from "The New York Times Magazine," June 25, 2013
In this video clip, Robert D. Newman shares how his friend Brooke Hopkins found meaning for his life after a tragic accident through his love of literature and teaching.

by Robert D. Newman, President and Director, National Humanities Center
"When Breath Becomes Air," by Paul Kalanithi
Just as he was completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. When Breath Becomes Air, the memoir Kalanithi wrote in the midst of his illness, traces his journey from brilliant medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” to his life as a patient and new father faced with his own mortality. As his body declines, his spirit expands. “Science may provide the most useful…

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.
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