The inspiration for the organization came from the work of writer and educator Earl Shorris. In 1995, Shorris created the Clemente Course in the Humanities, a free program first delivered on the lower east side of Manhattan with the vision of using the Humanities to radically enrich the lives of those in poverty by encouraging critical thinking, social engagement, and political action.
Spurred on by Shorris’s work, a number of Halifax-based community advocates came together in 2003 to form the Saint George’s Friends of Clemente Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of those living in material poverty, through education in the Humanities. The Halifax Humanities Society, as it is known today, is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities and engagement with the arts to those who would otherwise lack such access. Our students include, but are not limited to, those who live on assistance, disability, pension, or those who face other economic, physical, and social challenges to educational advancement and community inclusion.
In October 2005, the Society, by then a registered charitable organization, launched an eight-month pilot project called Halifax Humanities 101, based loosely on the Great Books curriculum developed in the Foundation Year Programme at the University of King’s College.
Since that pilot year in 2005, over 150 students have successfully completed the eight-month course of study. We have introduced new alumni programming, including our long-running Angus Johnston Seminar. Thanks to our partnerships with Saint Mary’s University, Dalhousie University, University of King’s College, NSCAD University, Mount Saint Vincent University, and the Atlantic School of Theology, a number of our students have gone on to take courses at those universities.
In 2017, retiring Halifax Humanities Director Mary Lu Redden received an honourary doctorate from the University of King’s College in honour of her years of service to the program and its students.
Amy Bird is the current Director of The Halifax Humanities Society.