Humanities Moments

Browse Exhibits (20 total)

Racial Injustice in America

African American Park Ranger Sylvester Putman and Maggie Laura Walker Lewis at the July 14, 1985 opening ceremony for Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site

Since its inception, the United States has harbored deep roots of structural racism: from its public healthcare system to its police departments, racial injustice permeates every facet of the nation’s social fabric. As Americans of color are disproportionately struggling with the devastating effects of COVID-19 and police brutality, the nation has entered into a moment of reckoning on systemic racism. Recent nationwide protests mark a collective stand for parity, and dignity, for Black, Brown, and Indigenous lives.

In the following collection of Humanities Moments, contributors reflect on the long, and often overlooked, history of racial inequality with an eye towards how the humanities can help overcome past injustices. Betty Reid Soskin, the oldest active park ranger, contemplates how the arts offer a path towards empathy and, ultimately, healing from the nation’s legacy of racial segregation. The historian Julia Nguyen discusses the power dynamics embedded in commemorative statues, exploring how these memorials shape the narrative arc of history. Finally, filmmaker and storyteller Ken Burns situates his own story within the nation’s tumultuous history of race relations.

Creating Shelter


The COVID-19 pandemic has disconnected us from the familiar flow of our lives. We find ourselves “socially distanced” from one another and uncertain of how long the current situation will continue or how deeply our world may be changed. This has necessitated a re-evaluation of many things—including the ways we think about “home.”

In the following collection of "Moments of Home," contributors imagine home as a place, a feeling, a set of relationships, and as a site of learning and personal growth. Margherita Berti reflects on becoming familiar with a new culture abroad and recognizing a new home in the process. Kristin Jacobson reveals that even when we turn to popular media as a way to “escape” from reality, the narratives that entertain us shape the way that we imagine our homes and our future. Stephen G. Hall shares how the presence of humanities in his childhood home fostered his work as a political activist outside its walls.

The Power of Poetry

Ulysses and the Sirens, illustration from an antique Greek vase

In recognition of National Poetry Month and in acknowledgement of the recent coronavirus pandemic, this exhibit highlights the power of poetry to orient readers in disorienting times. Whether such works are the length of an epic or contain just a few verses, poetry estranges the familiar rhythm and feeling of our words and gives us new ways to tell the stories we use to make sense of our world. 

In “A Poem Remembered, a World Created,” writer Nathan Nielson recounts how Tennyson’s poetry allowed him to reckon with common human forms of struggle and inspired him to respond creatively through prose. During a moment of fear, entrepreneur Kevin Guthrie shares how he turned to Homer as he navigated a family member’s illness that left him feeling completely helpless. Finally, Dr. Michael Stanley reflects on the way that Shakespeare’s words opened up a bridge of communication with his patient when all other attempts failed. 

Honoring Women’s History

Women's Suffrage Parade

In what would quickly become a rallying cry, historian Laura Thatcher Ulrich proclaimed in 1976 that “well-behaved women seldom make history.” 

This March, in honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve gathered Humanities Moments that document the legacies of women who’ve inspired us by breaking the rules, raising their voices, and changing the way we think about ourselves, about women, and about the role they’ve played in shaping our world. 

In 2014 Chimamanda Adichie declared that “we should all be feminist” and reminded us of the danger of a single story. This collection of Moments takes both Ulrich’s and Adichie’s words as a guide, with perspectives drawn from the lives of a broad assortment of “misbehaving” women: Abigail Adams, who exhorted her husband and the Founding Fathers to “remember the ladies;” Betty Friedan, whose book The Feminine Mystique challenged the assumption that a woman’s fulfillment stems from managing a household; and Zora Neale Hurston, who devoted her life to celebrating the lives and towns of African Americans of the rural south. 

Commemorating Black History

Modern Dancer__ HM Image.jpg

In recognition of Black History Month, we’ve curated a collection of stories honoring members of the African diaspora who have changed the world. 

From screenwriters to civil rights leaders, black Americans have shaped history through their creative, intellectual, and political contributions. The “true magic” of Gladys Knight helped musician Patrick Sansone to recognize the transformative power of performance. Sarah Scriven shares how an academic forum on Shonda Rimes created a space to explore stories written by and for black women. The remaining traces of Eatonville—America's first legally self-governing African American municipality—inspired student Valerie Rose Kelco to help preserve the legacy of author Zora Neale Hurston.

Explore these Humanities Moments, and more, that cast a light on the history of black America.

Composing Connections Through Music

The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show

Music has the power to enrich and transform, often in surprising and unexpected ways. Whether it’s a simple melody or a memorable performance, music invites us to critically reflect upon and listen to the stories and people that compose our worlds. As English graduate student Tereza Walsbergerová writes in her contribution, music is more than just orchestrated sound. Rather, it makes up the aural texture of our personal lives: a hug, a kind word, a deep breath. For Walsbergerová, the humanities “provide a platform that lets us, the students and the scholars, the writers and the readers, stop and listen” to the musical interactions that make up the fabric of our lives.

Celebrating Immigrants in the Story of America

Statue of Liberty

Stories of migration are deeply woven into the cultural fabric of the United States. The experiences and contributions of immigrants have strengthened and diversified our communities, enriching small towns and big cities alike. Together, these stories reveal how the promise of freedom (and the struggle to achieve it) unifies Americans as they simultaneously demonstrate the profound importance of living and thriving together.

Celebrating Teachers

Preparing for the North Carolina Symphony's visit

In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Talesa text often taught in English classesthe narrator describes one of the pilgrims: “And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.” In other words, to teach well, one learns well. So, in honor of the end of the academic year, we celebrate humanities teachers who devote their lives to passing along what they have learned, sparking lifelong curiosity in their students.

Beyond Despair: Environmental Humanities Awareness

Chimborazo Volcano, Ecuador

The environmental humanities is an interdisciplinary field that explores issues that have typically been approached through the lens of the sciences or public policy and considers them in a humanities context where they often find added depth and focus. As the National Humanities Center convenes an international summit, Beyond Despair: Theory and Practice in the Environmental Humanities, we’ve gathered some contributions which illuminate the intersecting lines of inquiry at the heart of environmental humanities.

Civil Disobedience: Martin Luther King’s Influences and Legacy

Civil rights leaders marching in Washington, D.C.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, we’ve gathered Humanities Moments that touch on the civil rights leader’s intellectual heritage and legacy.

Some focus on thinkers such as Henry David Thoreau, whose works on civil disobedience would influence the young doctoral student. Others trouble the black-and-white narratives about Mahatma Gandhi, another philosopher who touched King’s life, problematizing the straightforward or sanitized stories about the Indian leader’s ideas about race. For instance, what do we make of the presence of a Gandhi statue at the MLK Center in Atlanta? Finally, some focus on the very meaning of civil rights in the United States and beyond.

How do you honor Dr. King’s legacy?

Creating Stories and Memories from Tradition

Burl's Photo

The final months of the year provide a chance to reflect on what connects us to one another. Whether it’s an heirloom recipe or an annual gathering, traditions can offer ways to remember the shared past and envision the future.

By participating in trans-generational acts of memory and storytelling, we can bring Humanities Moments to life and ensure they will be passed into the future.

Celebrating National Arts & Humanities Month

Ebony Fashion Fair designer fashions, NCMA

Since 1993, October has marked National Arts & Humanities Month. In honor of this month, we’ve selected some of our favorite Humanities Moments.  

For a historian, it was a statue with a troubling past. For a travel agent, it was a classical music concerto heard on a blind date. For an artist, it was a Butthole Surfers album. These are just a few of our favorite contributions.

Geography, History, and Education in Barbados

Barbados flag

An attempt to grapple with the the critical role of Barbados in the Transatlantic Slave Trade requires a deep investigation of the historic, geographic, and cultural landscape of this small Caribbean island. The Virginia Geographic Alliance supported a group of educators in their investigation of place and the relationship between human and physical geography.

Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

How to Get U.S. Citizenship (2nd edition)

May marks Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The month was chosen to honor the arrival of the first Japanese individuals to the United States in 1843. It also commemorates the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, largely built by Chinese immigrants, in 1869. These historical markers, however, cannot fully capture the many ways in which members of the Asian Pacific diaspora have left their indelible imprint on American history and culture.

Poetry’s “Perfect Invitation”

A modern statue of the Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus

Since 1996, the United States has honored April as National Poetry Month. To quote a line from poet Lucille Clifton, it’s a “perfect invitation” to celebrate the ways in which stanzas, synecdoche, and verse have affected readers.

“Remember the Ladies”

Rosie the Riviter

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve gathered Humanities Moments that document the legacies of women who have broken the rules, raised their voices, and left their mark in ways that continue to inspire.


California Humanities: We Are the Humanities

Japanese internment detainees

To celebrate its 40th anniversary of grantmaking, programming, and partnerships that connect Californians to each other, California Humanities invited a group of prominent individuals to explore what the humanities mean to them.

Honoring Black History

Ebony Fashion Fair designer fashions, NCMA

In honor of Black History Month, we’ve curated this collection of Humanities Moments celebrating the ways in which members of the African Diaspora have shaped the world. 

From musicians to National Park Service rangers to civil rights leaders, African Americans have made history through their creative, intellectual, and political contributions.

National Humanities Center: This is Us

Confessions of St. Augustine

The National Humanities Center is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to advanced study in all areas of the humanities. The Humanities Moments project was created by the Center in an effort to gather, store, and share personal accounts about how the humanities illuminate our lives, help us better understand one another, and give us the means to appreciate where we came from and to take stock of where we’re going.

This exhibit includes Moments contributed by some of the individuals most closely involved with the National Humanities Center and helps shed light on their shared passion for the humanities. This is us and we would love to share our moments with you. We invite you to do the same and share your moment with us.

Humanities Moments from All Walks of Life

Ulysses and the Sirens, illustration from an antique Greek vase

In this exhibit, we invite you to consider the broad impact of the humanities across generations, professions, and areas of interest. The selections included here—from artists and academics, business people and entertainers, teachers and students—demonstrate how we all have been shaped, inspired, and transformed by the humanities.

We invite you to join them by sharing your own Humanities Moment and adding your own distinct voice to those assembled here.