The Public Humanist Top 10

From analyzing civil rights to discovering the 19th-century from a widow’s diary, Mass Humanities’s blog — The Public Humanist — is a rich trove of perspectives and provocations. This fall, it celebrates five years. Here’s a look at 10 of our favorite columns.

Love, Loss, and Poker: Autobiographical Writing at an Assisted Living Center

by Lucia Knoles
Our author reflects on placing her father in an assisted living center and describes what she did about her fears and his boredom.

"When I originally offered to teach an autobiography-writing workshop in my father's assisted living residence, I did it with the idea of giving people something to do. What I didn't expect was the fact that I would learn more than I would teach. This was the best group of students I have ever worked with." Read More

Photo courtesy of Lucia Knowles

On Equal Terms: Young Women Vocational Students Face Their Futures

by Susan Eisenberg
A former union organizer turned artist, the author reflects on her exhibit examining the history of women who work construction.

"I was surprised at how suddenly raw I felt, reading what one vocational student had written on a yellow sticky note: ‘Your [sic] never going to make it.' She was quoting the words of her shop teacher." Read More

Photo courtesy of Susan Eisenberg

Self-Publishing: Power to the Author or to the Reader?

by Sharon Shaloo
Does the loss of gatekeepers in publishing mean good, reliable literature is harder to find?

"In a time when the local bookseller is under siege, when book reviews are hard to find…I see the value in having someone point the way, steering readers toward great literature and away from trivial publications…" Read More

Photo by Hayley Wood

TV Is Dead. Long Live TV.

by Sarah Archambault
It's okay: you can love TV. One writer gets over her television “shame” and explains the changing landscape of the small screen.

"One important role that needs to be filled—as new models of media consumption grow—is that of the curator. A YouTube future seemingly operates without one, but for many that is just too much material to sort through. Trusted programmers, curators, scholars, and critics will be in demand in this new era to help us choose, understand, and appreciate what we're watching." Read More

Photo by Mark Roessler

Oral History Imagined: An Artist Discusses Her Use of Animation in Filmmaking

by Carolyn Shadid-Lewis
A filmmaker combines her love of realism with fantasy to create a new tradition of documentary filmmaking.

"Animation initiates a creative space for the viewer to actively employ their own imagination in the film, promoting an empathetic and tender response to the stories being told." Read More

Animation still from Twilight til Dawn

The Last Troops Leave Iraq: A Retrospective on Operation Iraqi Freedom

by Brian Glyn Williams
Last convoy of U.S. service members enters Kuwait from Iraq, 12/18/11. Wars of choice and wars of necessity: which one was the war in Iraq?

"The days of that hubristic moment when Bush landed on the aircraft carrier and The White House spoke of invading Iran have been replaced by a more sober assessment of the real costs in lives and gold that wars take." Read More

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sergeant Lynett

The Newfound Fact of Fiction

by Brendan Tapley
Politics, sports, corporate America: are we in the Era of the Lie? And when the real increasingly becomes the surreal, where should we turn for a dose of the truth? Maybe the original lie: fiction.

"In corporate America, the last four years seem to proclaim that fraud is the rule, not the exception. Even more serious have been the lies of ‘weapons of mass destruction' and ‘mission accomplished.' All this begs the question: In a lying age, are we more compelled by—and more trusting of—the imagined than the actual?" Read More

Echo and Narcissus, oil on canvas, by John William Waterhouse, 1903

The Limits of Reflection

by Joe Cruz
When you're a philosophy professor, you often get asked what your personal “philosophy” is? Our philosopher explains why that's not an easy question. Nor should it be.

"It seems to me our lives do not unfold solely or even primarily in response to principles or conviction. We're embedded in communities and traditions that guide our choices….This seems the glorious truth about us, and it is a source of resilience, resolve, and tranquility." Read More

Photo by Hayley Wood

Leave Something of Yourself Behind

by Barbara Pelissier
A 19th century diary compels a woman to reevaluate how our culture deals with posterity and what our legacies will be.

"In reading the diary that a widow kept in my town during the years 1855-1873, I became lost in a world I never knew existed. Yet it had existed, and right up the road from my own house!" Read More

page of a sample pocket diary from 1863

Discovering the Global Popular Romance Community

by Laurie Kahn
Go behind the scenes of the global phenomenon that is romance literature to see what makes it tick and who the women are behind and between its “covers.”

"Most people don't realize that romance novels—fiction written by women (95% of romance authors are women), for women (90.5% of the readers are women)—form the foundation of an economic powerhouse." Read More