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The Humanities
Commentary by: Nancy Kranzberg
Aired August 05, 2011


We often hear about the arts and humanities, but rarely do we think of the true meaning of the humanities.

The Center for the Humanities at Washington University defines itself as dedicated to the promotion and preservation of humanistic thinking and the pursuit of letters of essential activities in the intellectual, political, and artistic life of the University, the community it serves, and the world. Still we ask “what are the humanities?”

Dr. Gerald Early, the head of the center, says that the humanities include the study of literature, languages, history, philosophy, religion, music and the arts. He said at a recent talk that the humanities try to answer two basic questions,"what does it mean to be human and why and how do human beings construct meaning in the world?"

Professor Early, Dr Diane Touliatos, the Director of the Center for the Humanities at UMSL, and Geoffrey Giglierano, the director of the Missouri Humanities Council, recently spoke at a humanities conference at Washington University. Dr Touliatos says that the humanities went from classical times to the Renaissance, when scholars and artists of the period used the Latin word “humanitas” to refer to the existence and importance of humanities in relation to the human species. More precisely, the Humanities received its name because of the disciplines it represented and because these were the characteristic qualities that were especially desirable to make humans more knowledgeable, refined, considerate, merciful, and civilized.

Geoffrey Giglierano says how can we not love the humanities since these disciplines together constitute the collective memory and conscience of our society?

Aside from many courses offered in the Humanities at our wealth of colleges and universities throughout the state, the three organizations that I have mentioned cover the gamut in their offerings.

Washington University's Center for the Humanities offers such programs as the Faculty Book Celebration, the Children's Film Showcase, and the Music and Literature Reading Group.

The Center for the Humanities at UMSL has a spectacular Monday Noon Series among several other excellent programs. Karen Lucas, the associate director of the center, gave me a sneak preview of some of the fall program. Cliff Froelich, Executive Director of Cinema St Louis and the St Louis International Film Festival will entertain the audience with a tantalizing preview of some of the 2011 Festival films and themes. On another Monday, Charlene Clark, long time violinist with the St Louis Symphony, and fellow Symphony musician Deborah Bloom will perform and discuss selections for violin and piano.

The Missouri Humanities Council offers such programs as Family Reading and Outreach, Museum and Library Services and Touring Exhibitions and presents the Governors Humanities Awards annually.

Gerald Early says, "Some think the Humanities are underfunded and underappreciated and some think that they are irrelevant and being cut in some schools since they don't help one get a job."

Dr. Touliatos says, "In an era of science and technology dominance and moreover compounded with budget cuts everywhere, the importance of Humanities has sadly diminished, especially in our schools and even in our life styles. And yet, this is the time in the 21st century where humanities could play a major role of civility and understanding of diverse global cultures and histories that we in America with our provincial manners do not always understand nor appreciate."

To me, the Humanities enrich our lives and expand our understanding not only of our own culture and society, but the world and life beyond our own limits and boundaries.


(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Nancy Kranzberg

Nancy Kranzberg

Arts Aficionado Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for some thirty years. She serves on numerous arts affiliated boards, including The St. Louis Art Museum, Laumeier Sculpture Park where she is the Co-Chair, The Sheldon Arts Foundation and the Sheldon Art Gallery Board, Jazz at the Bistro, The Missouri Mansion Preservation Inc., The Mid American Arts Alliance, and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Nancy was named Women of Achievement and was awarded the Distinguished Alumnae Award at Washington University Nancy is a docent at the St. Louis Art Museum and is an honorary docent at Laumeier Sculpture Park. At age 60 she became a Jazz singer. She performs with the Second Half which features Chancellor Tom George on the piano.

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