Lectures & Seminars



Programs listed below are in chronological order.

Bootleggers, Bathtubs, and Speakeasies: Tales From Prohibition

Wednesday, March 4, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Get a taste of the 1920s as you sip some iconic period cocktails (Orange Blossom, anyone?) and hear from two of the co-founders of the Museum of the American Cocktail how determined drinkers thumbed their noses at the killjoys who tried to turn America dry.

Fiery Forces: Volcanoes on Earth and Beyond

Wednesday, March 4, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Smithsonian volcanologist Rick Wunderman and geologist Jim Zimbelman survey the science behind the awesome and devastating power of volcanoes—both on our own planet and in extraterrestrial forms.

The Table at Downton Abbey: The Art of Dining

Thursday, March 5, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Step into the Grantham dining room with food historian Francine Segan as she offers a guide to the meals and manners of the British aristocracy of the early 20th century.

The Ring Cycle: How Wagner Changed the World

Saturday, March 7, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

If any work of art deserves to be called epic—in its conception, creation, and influence—it’s the quartet of operas that make up the Ring. As prelude to the 2016 Ring cycle presented by Washington National Opera, Fred Plotkin explores the works in a day highlighted by glorious musical and film recordings.

The Legacy of Andrea Palladio

Saturday, March 7, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

In a richly illustrated seminar, art historian Bonita Billman traces the hallmarks and features of Palladio’s enduring classical-inspired architecture, from the magnificent villas he created in Renaissance Italy to the country houses and mansions that were built in his spirit by great British architects in the era of the European Grand Tour.

Unbuilt Washington: Alternative Visions

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Architect and historian Don Hawkins guides a tour of a Washington that never was as he looks at grand but unrealized plans for buildings and monuments that might have given the city a very different character.

The Birth of the Banjo

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

In a lively musical presentation, period banjo specialist George Wunderlich traces the instrument’s roots in West Africa and the Caribbean, its introduction in America, and its flowering in the 19th century as the instrument crossed from black to white hands and from fields to stages.

Democracy Since 1989: A Questionable Triumph

Thursday, March 12, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the rising Arab Spring, Western pundits have hailed the triumph of democracy. But its promise has been tough to realize in many parts of the world. Learn why this is happening and what should be done to smooth democracy’s path, with historian Charles Ingrao.

Empires of the Adriatic

Saturday, March 14, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

Explore the history and legacy of the Venetian, Ottoman, and Habsburg empires as they imposed their own distinct version of social, economic, and political rule.

A Day at Hillwood

Saturday, March 14, 2015 at 10 a.m.

Take in the treasures of Marjorie Merriweather Post’s opulent house museum as Hillwood’s director and curators guide you through the collections of Russian and French decorative arts and the estate’s formal gardens.

Fakes, Forgeries and the Art of Deception

Monday, March 16, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

The age-old art of forgery continues today as fakes slip past the experts and wind up in prestigious galleries and museums the world over. Hear stories about some of history’s most prolific forgers and how their infamous “masterpieces” beguiled the art world.

How Ramen Went Global: From Meal-in-a-Cup to High-Style Cuisine

Monday, March 16, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Tonight, George Solt shows ramen’s transformation from a food custom into a worldwide phenomenon. Hosted at the restaurant BUL, the program includes a three-course dinner prepared by Sakuramen, a ramen bar in Adams Morgan.

Coach Gary Williams: Let March Madness Begin!

Monday, March 16, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Legendary University of Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams talks with attorney and sportscaster Phil Hochberg about the game, college athletics, the conference system, and local sports. UMD play-by-play announcer Johnny Holliday and Rich Chvotkin, voice of the Hoyas, join in the conversation.

Behind the Science with Joe Palca: Insights from Scientific Innovators

Tuesday, March 17, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

NPR’s Joe Palca returns to the Smithsonian to sit down with stellar scientists for some engaging and entertaining conversations about the exciting work they do and how it connects to our lives. Tonight's program features Seth Miller and marine biology. Part of a 5-Session Lecture Series.

Erik Larson on the Sinking of the Lusitania

Wednesday, March 18, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts, examines the tragic final crossing of the Lusitania, the disaster that steered America on the road to World War I.

Ancient Peru’s Mysterious Moche

Thursday, March 19, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

They were great builders, farmers, and artisans. Their political systems were among the ancient New World’s most complex. What caused them to disappear? Explore the origins and collapse of this fascinating Andean civilization.

Smithsonian Newsflash

Thursday, March 19, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Join us in a new innovative series that will look behind headlines and amplify sound bites. The newsworthy topic and featured spearker(s) will be announced the Monday before the program's date.

Great Controversies in Early Christianity: The Life and Death of Jesus

Saturday, March 21, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

Bart Ehrman, a leading authority on the New Testament and the life of Jesus, explores four of the issues historians confront when researching the real story behind the Gospel accounts of the founder of Christianity.

Write the Stories of Your Ancestors

Saturday, March 21, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

How do you preserve and pass on a family history? Genealogy expert John Colletta explores how to use the facts you’ve discovered in research to craft a compelling narrative that tells the unique story of your family.

Tara Brach: How To Find the Peace Within

Sunday, March 22, 2015 at 3 p.m.

Join Tara Brach, an internationally known teacher of Buddhist meditation, to explore practices of mindfulness and compassion in an afternoon that includes both a presentation and guided meditation.

Navies of the Civil War

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Though the Civil War is remembered for its land battles, naval engagements shaped a significant war on the water. Maritime historian Andrew Jampoler looks at the Union and Confederate naval leaders, strategies, ships, and battles that helped define the conflict’s outcome.

James McPherson: Why the Civil War Still Matters

Wednesday, March 25, 2015 at 7 p.m.

When the Civil War ended, thousands of American lives had been lost—and the nation itself had been changed forever. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson examines why the Civil War remains so deeply embedded in our national psyche and identity.

Principles of Highly Effective Speaking: How To Be Heard, Understood, and Remembered

Saturday, March 28, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

It’s not just what you say: It’s how you say it. Learn practical strategies to speak with more clarity, confidence, and power in any professional or social setting.

The Glories of French Art and Architecture

Saturday, March 28, 2015 at 10 a.m.

Unparalleled elegance and sophistication are the hallmarks of France’s artistic legacy. Art historian Janetta Rebold Benton surveys the high points of architecture, sculpture, and painting over a span of more than 900 years. (World Art History Certificate elective)

Orchids 101

Sunday, March 29, 2015 at 2 p.m.

LECTURE ONLY: Smithsonian Gardens staff introduce orchid novices to the beautiful species and its history, and provide guidance in choosing the right orchid and keeping it healthy and happy. An optional hands-on workshop portion lets you dig deeper.  

Orchids 101

Sunday, March 29, 2015 at 2 p.m.

LECTURE & WORKSHOP: Smithsonian Gardens staff members introduce orchid novices to the beautiful species and its history, and provide guidance in choosing the right orchid and keeping it healthy and happy. A hands-on workshop portion lets you dig deeper. 

Looking West: Ataturk and the Creation of Modern Turkey

Tuesday, March 31, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

In this evening seminar, learn the fascinating story of Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s first president, who changed the face of the Ottoman Empire following World War I. Relying on a theme of governance by science and reason rather than by dogma and religion, he dragged a predominately illiterate and lethargic society into the 20th century.

Irving Berlin, The Last of the Troubadours

Tuesday, March 31, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

American music specialist Robert Wyatt takes you through the extraordinary life and  musical achievements of legendary songwriter Irving Berlin.

Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership

Tuesday, April 7, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Author Susan Butler tells the story of how the leaders of the capitalist and Communist worlds joined forces to defeat Hitler, and illuminates the unlikely but real alliance the two men forged.

Tim Gunn: How To Navigate Your Personal Runway

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

The beloved fashion guru from Project Runway (and D.C. native), talks about his career, what he’s learned about mentorship, and holding your own in a tough business—and in life.

Walt Whitman in Washington

Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

The years from 1863 to 1873 were a tumultuous period for the city of Washington and a pivotal time for Walt Whitman’s career and private life. Local historian Garrett Peck examines the intersection of the changes that decade brought to the capital and the poet.

Azar Nafisi: 2015 Benjamin Franklin Creativity Laureate Presentation

Friday, April 10, 2015 at 7 p.m.

The Iranian novelist best known for Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books receives the 2014 Benjamin Franklin Creativity Laureate Award in honor of her achievements in literature.

Cracking the Runic Code

Saturday, April 11, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

Scandinavian language professor Henrik Williams sheds light on early Runic inscriptions, providing glimpses of the Viking culture as it was nearly two thousand years ago.

Vivaldi in Venice

Saturday, April 11, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

Musicologist Daniel Freeman traces Vivaldi’s life in the city of his birth, illuminating sites that were important in the composer’s personal life and that helped inspire much of his music.

Images of Infinite Worlds

Saturday, April 11, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Photographer Michael Soluri taught a crew of astronauts to capture their 2009 mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope in vivid images. He brings his own memorable photographs of the people and the places of the space program to an evening in which he’s joined by four NASA pros who played key roles in the final service mission to the Hubble.

Fruit of the Ancient Vine

Monday, April 13, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

What would guests in Pompeii have sipped at a dinner party? Get a taste for yourself at a fascinating evening with Piero Mastroberardino, whose family winery in Italy still cultivates the grape varieties that were used in creating the ancient elixir of the gods.

800 Years of Magna Carta

Tuesday, April 14, 2015 at 7 p.m.

Historian Jennifer Paxton traces the transformation of Magna Carta from a list of concessions granted by an unpopular medieval king into a blueprint for good government that influenced the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.

The McMillan Plan: 1902 to 2015 and Beyond

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

The McMillan Plan, an ambitious and influential early 20th-century urban planning agenda, shaped the National Mall and central Washington as we know today. Architectural curator Martin Moeller reviews its history, implementation, and impact. Participants can purchase an added bus tour that explores the neoclassical architecture of Washington’s “monumental core” on April 18.

Magic That Adds Up: Mathemagician Colm Mulcahy

Saturday, April 18, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Ready to discover some surprising insights into mathematical principles? They’re all in the cards when educator-showman Colm Mulcahy dazzles with sleight of hand that brings math’s foundations to life.

William Butler Yeats: Western Ireland’s Poet Extraordinaire

Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Through a lecture and readings, Christopher Griffin, who taught Irish literature at George Washington University, considers the meaning of Yeats’s poetry and his abiding love of his native land.

Polar Extremes: A Geologist’s Guide

Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Jim Zimbelman of the Air and Space Museum looks at the Arctic and Antarctic with a focus on the regions’ histories, climate, geology, and geography—and how each pole’s weather serves as an early preview of global climate change.

The Story of Steuben Glass: Creating an American Luxury Brand

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Kelly Conway, curator of American Glass at the Corning Museum of Glass, traces how technology, design, marketing, and shifting cultural aspirations came together to make Steuben Glass a name synonymous with modern elegance, superior quality, and glamour.

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas

Saturday, April 25, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

Catholic University professor Gregory T. Doolan spends a day examining the historical significance of Aquinas, whose thinking presents one of the most comprehensive philosophical systems in the history of Western civilization. 

Mindfulness as a Path to Happiness and Peace

Saturday, April 25, 2015 at 10 a.m.

Instructor Hugh Byrne explores how mindfulness meditation practices offer a simple and natural way to access a core of inner calm. The session is designed for both veterans and newcomers to the techniques of awareness.

An Evening in Thailand: A Private Dinner at Soi 38

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Meet the husband-and-wife team behind the downtown DC spot that has generated lots of buzz since it opened last spring. They’ve planned a special dinner with a menu designed around the tastes of authentic dishes you’d find in a Thai street market.

Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the American West

Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

In the first of several programs on great trailblazers, Landon Jones, editor of The Essential Lewis and Clark, traces the triumphs and hardships of the most momentous of American expeditions.

Great Houses of Scotland and Their Treasures

Saturday, May 2, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

The architecture and interiors of Scotland’s finest historic houses uniquely reflect the country’s heritage and culture. Spend a day guided by Lorella Brocklesby of New York University as she explores more than 400 years of splendor, from fortified 16th-century tower houses to baroque palaces to exuberant revival styles of the Victorian period. (World Art History Certificate elective)

Visionaries, Eccentrics and Restless Spirits: The Other Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance

Saturday, May 2, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

Art historian Aneta Georgievska-Shine explores the contributions of several lesser-known painters who created some of the period’s most fascinating, intriguing, and still-insufficiently understood works of art.

USS Monitor: Symbol, Landmark, and Sanctuary

Sunday, May 3, 2015 at 10 a.m.

The ironclad USS Monitor changed the course of the Civil War and naval combat forever. Historians and scientists, part of an ongoing conservation and research project at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, examine the historic warship’s significance from a variety of perspectives.

De-Extinction: A Mammoth Undertaking: Can Ancient DNA Re-create Lost Species?

Monday, May 4, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

The scientific tools to return lost species like the woolly mammoth to life are within reach. Beth Shapiro, an evolutionary biologist and pioneer in ancient DNA research, discusses de-extinction's potential practical benefits and its ethical challenges

A Frank View of Life in Politics and the Real World: Barney Frank Speaks His Mind

Tuesday, May 5, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

The former legislator shares his unvarnished thoughts on Congress, the closed-door workings of the Hill, and how private and public life intersected in his political career. 

Mark Furstenberg: The Neighborhood Bread Baker

Wednesday, May 6, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

The man behind Marvelous Market, the Breadline, and now Bread Furst revolutionized Washington’s taste for bread. Hear Furstenberg talk about his crispy, crunchy, golden-crusted passion, and sample some of his favorite loaves.

Brad Garrett: Laughing at Middle Age

Wednesday, May 6, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

The actor best known for Everybody Loves Raymond discusses his new book, a collection of comedic and personal essays on the gaffes, challenges, and joys of life’s second half.

5-Star Design: Patrick O’Connell of the Inn at Little Washington

Thursday, May 7, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

The chef and proprietor of the celebrated restaurant and hotel reveals how architectural ingenuity and opulent interior design transformed a former garage into a luxurious country destination.

Historian John Ferling on the American Revolution

Thursday, May 7, 2015 at 7 p.m.

The noted specialist on early America examines the colonies’ defiant insurgency for independence that had to be won in a difficult and uncertain war against a superpower.

The Ashcan School of Painting

Wednesday, May 13, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Art critic Judy Pomeranz examines how a group of painters created powerful and personal works that revealed unvarnished truths about urban life in the early 20th century. (World Art History Certificate elective)

The German Expressionists

Thursday, May 14, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Examine the works of the early-20th-century artists who forged a boldly innovative and highly personal style of painting rooted in their emotions—and that reflected the rapidly changing world around them. (World Art History Certificate elective)

Our Appetite for The Hunger Games

Thursday, May 14, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Stef Woods of American University, who developed a course on The Hunger Games, discusses why the boundary-breaking success of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy offers plenty of food for thought.

Mario Livio on the Search for Life

Saturday, May 16, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

Can ours be the only planet among the countless galaxies that can sustain life? The noted astrophysicist explores what we know now—and might learn in the near future—in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Fighting Slavery: Nat Turner to Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, May 16, 2015 at 10 a.m.

Richard Bell of the University of Maryland, College Park, examines the turbulent years between 1829 and 1865, when Americans both enslaved and free built an abolition movement designed to bring slavery to its knees.

How To Read a Work of Art: The Observant Eye

Saturday, May 16, 2015 at 10 a.m.

Art critic Judy Pomeranz introduces the formal principles of art and other tools to help develop your visual vocabulary and deepen your understanding and appreciation of the works you view. (World Art History Certificate elective)

Nora Pouillon: My Organic Life

Monday, May 18, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

The pioneer and champion of organic, environmentally conscious cuisine since Restaurant Nora opened in 1979 reviews a culinary career that changed our relationship with what we eat.

Cokie Roberts on the Women of Civil War Washington

Tuesday, May 19, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

When the Union dissolved, Washington, D.C. was transformed—and that change profoundly affected the city’s women. Cokie Roberts discusses their experiences, influence, and contributions during this momentous period in her new book, Capital Dames.

Bewitched by the Music of Rodgers and Hart

Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

The smooth and smart Rodgers and Hart filled the 1920s and ’30s with songs that sparkled with wit, sophistication, and an engaging sense of joie de vivre. American music specialist Robert Wyatt recalls the songs and show.

Behind the Science with Joe Palca: Insights from Scientific Innovators

Tuesday, May 26, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

NPR’s Joe Palca returns to the Smithsonian to sit down with stellar scientists for some engaging and entertaining conversations about the exciting work they do and how it connects to our lives. Tonight's program features Anthony Fauci and global health. Part of a 5-Session Lecture Series.

Birchbark, Brush, and Brick: The Cultural Life of Medieval Novgorod

Wednesday, May 27, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

The mud of Novgorod preserved more than a thousand birchbark scrolls whose messages provide a vivid picture of the everyday lives led by the residents of this once-powerful center of ancient Rus. Harvard’s Michael F. Flier puts the people and their remarkable city into cultural and historical context.

Scott and Amundsen: The Race to the South Pole

Thursday, May 28, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Author and curator Ross MacPhee of the American Museum of Natural History looks at the rival expeditions led by a pair of “ideal antagonists” that resulted in grand heroism, bitter tragedy, and myths that have lingered for generations.

A Culinary Tour of Mexico with Pati Jinich

Thursday, May 28, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Join the chef and author as she focuses on food traditions that reflect the spirit and culture of her native country’s diverse regions. Then sample some of those distinctive tastes in three regional variations on the tamale.

A Day at the Prado

Saturday, May 30, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

Art historian Nancy G. Heller explores some of the Prado’s most important treasures, placing them in their aesthetic and sociopolitical contexts. The day includes a Spanish-themed lunch. (World Art History Certificate elective)

How To Plan a Murder in Washington, D.C.: It’s a Literary Crime!

Thursday, June 4, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Here’s one mystery that many writers fail to solve: coming up with the correct procedural and atmospheric details when DC is a setting for crime stories. Meet one local who knows her stuff when it comes to tales about crime, Allison Leotta, a former federal prosecutor.

Jeff Shaara on Sherman’s March to the Sea

Thursday, June 4, 2015 at 7 p.m.

The best-selling author examines key actions and decisions of commanders on both sides of Sherman's legendary campaign, a sweep across Georgia that led to the final stroke of the Civil War.

The Phoenicians and Their Colonies

Saturday, June 6, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

Archaeologist Robert Stieglitz explores the history and cultural heritage of the civilization that brought urban life and literacy to the ancient western Mediterranean.

Drama Most Splendid: Baroque Art and Architecture from Bernini to Rembrandt

Saturday, June 6, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

Art historian Karin Alexis places baroque art in its artistic and historical contexts, tracing its evolution and examining its richness and breadth through masterworks in many forms. (World Art History Certificate elective)

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