Lectures & Seminars



Programs listed below are in chronological order.

Haunted: Remembering Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

On the 166th anniversary of his death, the original “man in black” gets a literary toast from writer Daniel Stashower and actor Scott Sedar. Raise your glass along with them.

Frederick Forsyth, Grandmaster of International Suspense

Thursday, October 8, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Author Frederick Forsyth has been writing extraordinary real-world novels of intrigue, for more than 40 years. Hear him talk about the amazing experiences that have informed his life and his work.

Jancis Robinson on Wine’s Intriguing New Directions

Tuesday, October 13, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Renowned wine critic and journalist Jancis Robinson shares observations on the shape of wine to come: lighter, fresher, and more geographically focused. After a discussion of the wine world’s trends, raise a toast as you sample a selection of wines.

Kris Tompkins on Building Patagonia National Park

Tuesday, October 13, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Kris Tompkins discusses the career path that took her from CEO of Patagonia Inc. to key player in the creation of the future Patagonia National Park.

Murals: What the Walls Say

Saturday, October 17, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

From the caves of Lascaux to the Peacock Room, medieval castles to Rockefeller Center, artists of all kinds have found walls to be an irresistible place to tell a story. William Woodward, an artist and professor emeritus at George Washington University, guides you though the history of this ancient narrative art form. (World Art History Certificate elective)

The Baltic Riviera: Landscape and Memory

Saturday, October 17, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

The intertwined yet distinctive cultural heritages of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania reveal themselves in dazzling medieval guild halls, towering Gothic cathedrals, Russian Orthodox churches, Baroque palaces, and extraordinary art nouveau buildings. Art historian Ursula Rehn Wolfman leads a look at the region’s history and dazzling and diverse architecture.

The Shadowy History of Film Noir

Saturday, October 17, 2015 at 5 p.m.

As the AFI Silver Theater hosts the annual Noir City festival, film scholar Eddie Mueller digs into the detectives, the dames, and the dark doings that make film noir an enduring American genre.

The Mind of a Critic: Dishing on DC’s Dining Scene

Sunday, October 18, 2015 at 6 p.m.

We’ve all followed a food critic’s advice. But what do we really know about the profession? Respected local food critics and writers Tom Sietsema (Washington Post), Jessica Sidman (Washington City Paper), Stefanie Gans (Northern Virginia Magazine), Todd Kliman (Washingtonian), and Phyllis Richman (former Washington Post food critic) sit down to talk about the life of a food critic and D.C.’s and Northern Virginia’s ever-evolving dining scene.

Along Central Asia’s Silk Road: Culture, Traditions, History, and Legends

Tuesday, October 20, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Zulya Rajabova, a Silk Road educator and travel expert, serves as guide for an evening focused on the history and culture of several Central Asian nations that grew along the fabled thoroughfare.

Behavior by the Numbers: How Our Personal Data Exposes Us

Tuesday, October 20, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

As we live more of our lives online, data scientists have become the new demographers. Christian Rudder, who founded OKCupid, examines how our personal information is being used to describe who we are as individuals and a society.

Dave Broom Gets Us in the Spirit for Gin

Wednesday, October 21, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Guiding us through the joys of gin is none other than Dave Broom, who last delighted Smithsonian audiences with his guided tasting to the world’s best whiskies. As you sip some fantastic drinks, you’ll learn to enjoy gin in ways you never thought possible.

Resolving Violent Conflicts

Wednesday, October 21, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Why do people fight and die? Why does violence become the only solution to a problem for some groups and not for others? Two experts in conflict analysis and resolution explore what is being done to reduce and eliminate hostilities around the world in the future.

Christina Tosi: Bringing Milk Bar Life to DC

Thursday, October 22, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Life is sweet for the founding chef behind Milk Bar, the bakery that has fans in New York City and Toronto hooked on its glorious goodies. As the latest branch prepares to conquer DC’s dessert lovers, learn how Christina Tosi created a distinctive—and decidedly upbeat—approach to baking.

Kevin Costner Draws Us into The Explorer’s Guild: Old-Fashioned Storytelling with a New Twist

Friday, October 23, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Hear Academy-award winning director, producer, and actor Kevin Costner talk about a new role: co-creator of The Explorer’s Guild, a new series of illustrated novels that are a throwback to the golden age of adventure stories.

The Maya: Ancient Splendors, Modern Legacies

Saturday, October 24, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

Humanities scholar George Scheper shows how interdisciplinary study of the Maya extends beyond traditional archaeological studies to comprise political and social history, art, comparative religion, and ecology.

Understanding Contemporary Art: From Pop to Pluralism

Saturday, October 24, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

The 1960s jolted America—and its artists—into a new era of boldness, experimentation, and often, confrontation. Art historian Nancy G. Heller looks at the roots and influences of radical American art from the last five decades. (World Art History Certificate elective)

Cold-Case Homicides: An FBI Analysis

Monday, October 26, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

If you’ve been hooked on the podcast “Serial,” you’ll want to hear what Timothy G. Keel, a major case specialist with the FBI, has to say about the complexities, challenges, and techniques connected with investigating long-unsolved murders.

An Evening of Ethiopian Cuisine

Monday, October 26, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Explore the stunning Ethiopic restaurant in the Atlas District, which is making a name for serving delicious authentic cuisine. Learn about Ethiopian culture as you enjoy a 3-course meal and a glass of wine at this exclusive event for Smithsonian participants only.

Artists Against the Third Reich

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

As voices of all kinds were being silenced in 1930s Germany, Max Beckmann, Felix Nussbaum, and John Heartfield raised a powerful outcry—through their art. Erich Keel, former head of education at the Kreeger Museum, examines their heroic efforts, as well as art’s role as witness to history during Hitler’s regime. (World Art History Certificate elective)

Steve Case on Local Entrepreneurship

Thursday, October 29, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

AOL got its start in the region in 1985, and Steve Case has been part of a number of other innovative, area-based ventures ever since. Learn why he finds DC is such a great place to create businesses.

The Popes: From Peter to John XXIII

Saturday, October 31, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

Over the course of two millennia, the unbroken line of leadership of the Roman Catholic Church runs from a humble fisherman to an influential global figure. Historian John M. Freymann the traces the papacy’s inauspicious beginning to its present, powerful form.

The Navigators: Pathfinders of the Pacific

Monday, November 2, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

How did the Polynesian voyagers of a thousand years ago cover vast ocean distances without instruments or charts? Anthropologist Sanford Low found the answers by filming the journey of a modern navigator who circled the globe guided only by waves, wind, and stars.  

The World According to John Irving

Monday, November 2, 2015 at 7 p.m.

From his debut novel The World According to Garp to the about-to-be-released Avenue of Mysteries, John Irving has created a distinctive and enduring storyteller’s voice. Join him as he talks about his life as a writer, and take home a complimentary copy of his newest book.

Stacy Schiff on the Salem Witch Trials

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stacy Schiff places the trials that condemned 19 colonists to death in their historical and social contexts, and finds a contemporary resonance in some of the issues reflected in that dark and unsettled time.

Madhur Jaffrey Puts the Spice in Vegetarian Cooking

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Since the publication of her cookbook, An Invitation to Indian Cooking, more than 40 years ago, Madhur Jaffrey has been the preeminent authority on Indian home cooking in America. This evening, Jaffrey introduces you to the more traditional, healthier, yet no-less delicious vegetarian dishes that Indians enjoy every day.

Justice Thurgood Marshall: A Nomination for Change

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

As a lawyer and Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall had a direct and lasting impact on the Civil Rights movement. Journalist Wil Haygood delves into his life, his hard-won ascension to the bench, and the most important cases of his career.

A Day at the Kreeger Museum

Thursday, November 5, 2015 at 10 a.m.

Get a true insider’s look at the treasures housed in the Philip Johnson-designed private museum as the Kreeger’s director, staff members, and an artist serve as guides for a memorable visit. (World Art History Certificate elective)

Henry Hudson: A Navigator’s Fate

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

Perhaps the greatest mystery in the history of Arctic exploration is the fate of British explorer Henry Hudson. In June 1611, mutinous crew members cast him adrift in the waters of what is known today as Hudson Bay. He was never heard from again. Author and Arctic explorer Lawrence Millman shares stories that may shed new light on the explorer’s disappearance. Part of the Uncharted Territory: Great Expeditions and the Trailblazers Who Led Them series.

Italian Cooking with Jewish Soul

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

Fusion cuisine isn’t a modern invention. Food historian Francine Segan serves up a look at how Jewish culinary traditions entered the Italian kitchen centuries ago, particularly in the distinctive foods of Emilia-Romagna. Sample a few of those regional specialties at a reception after the program.

Mushrooms 101: A Study in Morels and More

Friday, November 6, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Explore the remarkable role fungi play in our planet’s ecology with mycologist, Arctic explorer, and author Lawrence Millman.

Write a Novel in a Month

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

What better to mark November as National Novel Writing Month than producing your own in 30 days? Kathryn Johnson of The Writer’s Center is ready to get you prepped for the literary challenge.

What Does It Mean? Stories and Symbols in Art

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

Stories from Greek and Roman mythology and the Bible engaged, entertained, and even shocked us for centuries. Art historian Lisa Passaglia Bauman traces these enduring stories from their ancient archetypes to contemporary interpretations. (World Art History Certificate elective)

Mark Bitterman on the Savory World of Bitters

Monday, November 9, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

The cocktail boom has brought bitters back into the spotlight as a versatile ingredient that can add plenty of interest to a drink. Get a taste of what the buzz is about from an ingredients expert who’s written a new guide to this venerable but often-overlooked tool of the mixologist’s craft.

Picturing Wilderness with Photographer Ian Shive

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

Conservation photographer Ian Shive offers an illustrated guide to some intriguing destinations for outdoor lovers: urban wildlife refuges found near many major cities.

Classicist Mary Beard on Ancient Rome

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

The story of ancient Rome—its citizens and politics, its cruelty and conquests—continues to resonate today. Acclaimed classicist Mary Beard provides an extraordinary new look at Roman history in her new book, S.P.Q.R.

Deepak Chopra: A New Understanding of Well-Being

Friday, November 13, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Deepak Chopra, an expert on alternative medicine, shares a bold new understanding of our genes and how simple changes in lifestyle can help us to make that leap into “radical well-being.”

Russia’s Recent Leaders: A Reassessment

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

Historian George Munro looks how the presidencies of Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin defined the political culture of post-Soviet Russia and shaped the country’s changing role on the world’s stage.

Andalusia: Monuments and Memories of Islamic Spain

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

The fabled cities of Seville, Cordoba, and Granada reflect a richly diverse cultural and artistic history. Art historian Lawrence Butler traces the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish influences that created cities of distinctive and enduring beauty. (World Art History Certificate elective)

Castles, Country Houses, and “Cottages”: Family Seats and Grand Retreats in Britain and America

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

Bill Keene explores the social, cultural, and economic history of the country house, tracing the rise, fall, and legacy of these fabled residences. (World Art History Certificate elective)

First Lady Style: Two Icons, Jacqueline Kennedy and Michelle Obama

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

Coleen Christian Burke, a White House style historian, examines how Jacqueline Kennedy and Michelle Obama stepped into a position laden with tradition and redefined it in ways that reflected their own identity, style, and values—and in the process, influenced two very different periods of national history.

The Economics of Deception: How the Marketplace Makes “Phools” of Us

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

Nobel Prize-winning economist George A. Akerlof, co-author of Phishing for Phools, details how our economy is stacked against consumers by sellers who exploit our psychological weaknesses and our ignorance through manipulation and deception. His solution for a better deal is greater knowledge, reform, and regulation.

La Stupenda! The Incomparable Joan Sutherland

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

A dramatic coloratura soprano with a ravishing voice and an unequaled ability to use it, Joan Sutherland was considered by many to be the greatest opera singer of her time. Opera expert Fred Plotkin provides fascinating insights into the life and career of the legendary diva.

The New Yorker’s Bob Mankoff: A Life in Cartoons

Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 7 p.m.

If you’re a reader of The New Yorker, chances are you’ve probably clipped out at least one of Bob Mankoff’s cartoons. Meet the magazine’s cartoon editor—who’s also one of the staff artists—and learn why his work is so memorable.

Last Refuge of the African Elephants: The KAZA Transfrontier Conservation Area

Monday, November 23, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Join Russell Gammon, one of Africa's top wilderness guides, for a virtual trek through Africa’s KAZA Transfrontier Conservation Area. KAZA, which comprises some of southern Africa's best-known parks, is our best hope for the preservation of African elephants in the wild.

Singer Frank Sinatra: He Set the Standard. Period

Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

He went from bobby-soxers’ dreamboat to the Chairman of the Board—and he did it his way. Music historian John Edward Hasse toasts the unmistakable voice that defined Sinatra’s stardom.

An Evening with Tom Brokaw

Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

He is perhaps best known as the celebrated anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News for 22 years. But that is only one entry in Tom Brokaw’s long list of accomplishments. Hear one of our most revered newsmen share the stories of his life covering the world’s news.

Edouard Manet: Reluctant Revolutionary

Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Art historian Bonita Billman discusses artist Edouard Manet’s life and career and analyzes his contributions to the impressionist movement. (World Art History Certificate elective)

The U.S. Navy: Sailing on History’s Variable Tides

Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 7 p.m.

Craig L. Symonds, professor of history emeritus at the United States Naval Academy, surveys the history of the U.S. Navy and considers its role in the 21st century.

An Evening with Rick Steves: Sharpen Your European Travel Skills

Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

The popular travel expert Rick Steves shares strategies on how to make the most of every mile, minute, and euro on your next European adventure.

Washington: A History of the National City

Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

President Kennedy once famously mocked Washington, D.C., as a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm. But there’s no denying its importance on the world stage. Historian Tom Lewis paints a portrait of the capital city whose internal conflicts and promise have mirrored those of America writ large.

Reading the Great Books of Science

Saturday, December 5, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

In this all-day seminar, explore the works of the great scientist-writers—from Hippocrates, Plato, and Aristotle, through 20th-century classics in biology, physics, and cosmology—which over the centuries moved scientific development forward.

Elizabethan England’s Golden Age, Unpolished

Saturday, December 5, 2015 at 10 a.m.

Join Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger on a fascinating exploration of Queen Elizabeth I’s England. Although the country appeared to be experiencing a golden age, from New World exploration and growing naval power to less religious and political strife and a cultural flowering, there were signs of renewed trouble at home and abroad.

The Man Who Touched His Own Heart: True Tales of Science, Surgery, and Mystery

Monday, December 7, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Once thought of as the seat of our soul, the heart still retains some of its mystery today. Author Rob Dunn tells the sometimes gory but always mesmerizing story of our most vital organ.

Unlocking the Secrets of the Pharaohs

Monday, December 7, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Modern 3D imaging has given some ancient Egypt rulers an afterlife they could never have imagined. Sahar Saleem, co-author of Scanning the Pharoahs, shares the fascinating insights into royal lives and deaths revealed by recent high-tech examinations of mummies.

Momofuku’s DC Moment: Chef David Chang Previews His Newest Projects

Tuesday, December 8, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Chef David Chang, a Virginia native, soon opens the newest outpost of his Momofuku dining empire at CityCenterDC. He’s got several of other delicious projects to talk about, including a new Asian cookbook co-written with Peter Meehan. Join them as they serve up a culinary conversation.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Celebrating Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Tuesday, December 8, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Lewis Carroll’s beloved tale of how clever Alice met a Mad Hatter, an anxious rabbit, a blue caterpillar, and other strange characters has been delighting readers for 150 years. Join us in a toast—and don’t be late for this very important date!

Revisiting the Battle of Waterloo: The Psychology of Warfare

Wednesday, December 9, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Fought 200 years ago, the battle that marked Napoleon’s final defeat played a key role in shaping the course of 19th-century Europe. Historian Howard G. Brown analyzes its legacy and meaning by viewing it from the perspective of its participants.

The Library of Antiquity: Alexandria

Wednesday, December 9, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Classicist Frederick Winter examines the fabled academic and political institution, and looks at how recent archaeological discoveries have added to our knowledge of ancient Alexandria.

The Wonders of the Cyclades Islands: Santorini, Naxos, Paros, and Delos

Thursday, December 10, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Join art historian Nigel McGilchrist on a virtual tour of Santorini, Naxos, Paros, and Delos. These islands in the Aegean Sea are famous for their beauty and natural resources, which contributed so greatly to the rise of Europe’s earliest art. (World Art History Certificate elective)

Edith Piaf: Passion, With No Regrets

Thursday, December 10, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Explore the life and legacy of legendary French singer Edith Piaf. Named “The Little Sparrow” by her adoring public, the tragic entertainer not only sang of love, loss and sorrow, she lived it.  

Titian, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Bernini: Pivotal Artists of Italy

Saturday, December 12, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

Some artists are content to carry on working in the received traditions. Others chose another creative path—and changed perceptions of art and artists into the future. Learn how pivotal Italian painters broke the mold, creating new possibilities for generations of artists to come. (World Art History Certificate elective)

Richard P. Feynman: Quoting a Genius

Monday, December 14, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Richard P. Feynman was as famous for the wit and wisdom of his popular lectures and writings as for his fundamental contributions to science. Maria Feynman joins NPR’s Joe Palca in a conversation about her new book that collects the most memorable of her father’s observations.

The World of Sparkling Wine

Tuesday, December 15, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

No festive occasion is complete without it, but do you know how to select just the right bottle of bubbly for your toast? Swati Bose, co-owner of Flight Wine Bar in Chinatown, leads an evening of learning about and tasting sparkling wines.

Hamilton and Burr: The Duel That Stunned the Nation

Wednesday, December 16, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Today’s political rivalries often play out in media soundbites and sniping. Shortly after the turn of the 19th century, two respected statesmen squared off in a far more fatal way. Author John Sedgwick analyzes the event that left a framer of the Constitution dead and turned a sitting vice president into a fugitive.

A Brief History of Creation: Science and the Search for the Origin of Life

Thursday, January 7, 2016 at 6:45 p.m.

Bill Mesler and H. James Cleaves II discuss their new book, in which they tell an epic story of the scientists through the ages who have sought answers to life’s biggest mystery: How did it begin?

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