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Five Minutes for the Humanities

A view from Brigitte Shull, Publisher for Literature and Head of Editorial and Author Services at Palgrave Macmillan

The way I read literature changed at the beginning of my junior of high school.

I had always been an avid reader but while dipping into the allegories and intricacies of the prose of Moby Dick, everything just clicked. I had no idea that literature could be so densely layered and complex, and that process of discovery was immensely rewarding. Reading an entire chapter on ambergris (a bi-product from whales used to make perfume) completely alienated my teenage self at first, until the deeper themes of the book—good versus evil, the existence of God, the very meaning of life—emerged. I walked away with my critical thinking skills much improved... and was left to ponder some profound themes! I doubt I would have even finished that book on my own; I needed the extra level of attention the class forced me to give the book. Having the opportunity to discuss the text with the class and hear new perspectives was instrumental to my comprehension of the text. I owe credit to that teacher for opening my eyes to the levels below the surface in literature.

As the narrator Ishmael says in Moby Dick “some certain significance lurks in all things, else all things are little worth.” For me, the value of the Humanities lies right there in that one amazing quote. The meaning of many aspects of the world we live in is not always obvious. It takes a well-trained mind to navigate and the Humanities give us the tools to do exactly that.