Lectures & Seminars



Programs listed below are in chronological order.

The Norman Invasion of 1066: The Struggle for the Crown and the Future of England

Monday, December 1, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

The Battle of Hastings opened a bitter, centuries-long rivalry between France and England. Historian Mary Frances Giandrea traces the origins of the Norman invasion and the devastating impact of William the Conqueror’s victory.

Celebrating Robert Frost: An American Poet

Tuesday, December 2, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Follow an American original down the road less traveled. Author Daniel Stashower explores Frost’s life and legacy, and actor Scott Sedar reads a selection of the poet’s most celebrated works.

Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry

Tuesday, December 2, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

If you’re in a pickle about how to preserve your favorite seasonal produce and local foods, Cathy Barrow, a D.C.-based food writer, can help. Barrow covers kitchen skills including canning, smoking, brining, fermenting, and dehydrating, and shows that all is within the everyday cook’s grasp.

The Women of the Wars of the Roses

Wednesday, December 3, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Tudor and Renaissance scholar Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger introduces seven powerful women who helped spin and shred the web of conspiracies that blanketed the English throne.

The Enigma of Alan Turing: A Biographer’s Portrait

Wednesday, December 3, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

In his acclaimed biography of British mathematician Alan Turing, Andrew Hodges tells how this brilliant man’s concept of a universal machine laid the foundation for the modern computer, and how Turing played a leading role in breaking the German Enigma ciphers during World War II.

Senate Gridlock: The Surge of the Factions

Wednesday, December 3, 2014 at 7 p.m.

As the ideological gap between both parties continues to wide, Ken Walsh, U.S. News & World Report’s chief White House correspondent, moderates a spirited panel discussion about the political divide.

Sacred Foods of India

Thursday, December 4, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Food and travel writer Monica Bhide leads you through the temples, mosques, and gurudwaras of India’s most prominent religions by way of their sacred foods. Then, enjoy a buffet reception prepared by Indique in Cleveland Park.

Secrets of Kennewick Man: The Definitive Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton

Thursday, December 4, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

When the skeleton of a 9,000-year-old man was discovered in Washington state in 1996, physical anthropologist Douglas Owsley of the Natural History Museum was among the scientists who studied the bones. The discoveries made during that investigation shed dramatic new light on the ancestral origins of some of the early residents of the Pacific Northwest.

The Reconstruction Era, 1865–1877: The Struggle To Mend a Nation

Saturday, December 6, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

As the 150th anniversary of the Reconstruction era approaches, historian Michael Ross considers how this tumultuous chapter in our history redefined the rights of all Americans.

Van Gogh and the Painters of the Petit Boulevard

Saturday, December 6, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

In this richly illustrated seminar, art historian Bonita Billman explores the lives and careers of van Gogh and other notable artists in Paris and their depictions of the celebrities and scenes of everyday life in Montmartre—the night life and low life of a bohemian world.

Cultural Capitals of Former East Germany

Saturday, December 6, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the cities of Dresden, Leipzig, Weimar, and East Berlin have emerged renewed, vigorous, and ready to make their mark once again on the world stage. Explore the history, culture, and sites of these cities in an illustrated seminar led by cultural and music historian Carol Reynolds.

Holiday Decorating, White House Style

Sunday, December 7, 2014 at 2 p.m.

Spend an afternoon with professional holiday decorator Coleen Christian Burke as she covers the traditions of White House holiday decorating, brings you behind the scenes as the seasonal transformation takes place, and shares some practical tips on how you can make your own holiday home reflect the sparkle of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward on The Roosevelts: An Intimate History

Monday, December 8, 2014 at 7 p.m.

The Roosevelts stand apart from American dynasties of the past and present in terms of their political and personal impact on our nation. Filmmaker Ken Burns and writer Geoffrey C. Ward, collaborators on a new PBS series and companion book, discuss how they crafted their portraits of Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt to capture both their larger-than-life public personas and the private lives that shaped them as individuals.

A New Journey Through A Christmas Carol: Dickens’ Message for 19th-Century America

Tuesday, December 9, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is one of the most beloved and widely known pieces of holiday literature. Learn how the classic English tale also mirrors a time when our country was undergoing rapid transformation and needed guidance and reassurance.

John McCain Presents Thirteen Soldiers

Thursday, December 11, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Senator John McCain discusses his evocative history of Americans at war, told through the personal accounts of 13 remarkable men and women who fought in conflicts from the Revolutionary War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Secret Societies of the Ancient World

Thursday, December 11, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

The deities of ancient Greece and Rome held sway over followers who gathered in secret societies organized in their honor. Classicist Frederick Winter examines the rites and beliefs of several of the major cults, and finds echoes of these pagan groups in another once-secret group of worshippers: early Christians.

How the Hollywood Western Shaped America: From Stagecoach to Django Unchained

Saturday, December 13, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

Saddle up for an entertaining and insightful look at the landscape of the Hollywood Western and trace its progression from early sagebrush melodramas to films that explore complex stories, history, and core American values.

Behind the Science with Joe Palca: Insights from Scientific Innovators

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 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 John Mather and the origins of the universe. Part of a 5-Session Lecture Series.

Rasputin: The Man Who Wouldn’t Die

Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

It took cyanide, bullets, and the freezing waters of the Neva River to end the life of Rasputin on December 29, 1916. What hasn’t ended are the controversies over who actually carried out the murder—and the reasons behind it. Ralph Nurnberger examines if new research finally provides the answers.

Serenity in Stone and Sand: Karesansui Gardens of Japan

Thursday, January 15, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

The interplay of natural elements produces a spare but eloquent beauty in karesansui gardens designed for calm and reflection. Landscape architect and writer Marc Peter Keane traces the origins, symbolism, and spiritual aspects of this Japanese gardening tradition that has been embraced the world over.

Behind the Science with Joe Palca: Insights from Scientific Innovators

Tuesday, January 20, 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 Carol Greider and molecular biology. Part of a 5-Session Lecture Series.

The Art of Seeing Art: Enhancing Your Visual Vocabulary

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

Like any language, art has its own vocabulary—one in which you discover more meaning and gratification as your fluency increases. Spend a day expanding your understanding of how art communicates, how to analyze and interpret it, and how to see in a cultural context. (World Art History Certificate elective)

A Capital Story: The History of Washington, D.C., 1783 to Today

Saturday, January 24, 2015 at 10 a.m.

In the inaugural program in a 4-part series on the making of the federal city, experts look at the long, complex, and often surprising history of our town in a daylong seminar at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

All Aboard for Union Station

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

There is no more magnificent portal to the capital than Washington’s Union Station, but even with a late-’80s facelift its Beaux-Arts beauty needs constant tending. Join representatives of the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation at the station to get an inside look at the current restoration project.

The Delights of Costa Rica

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

Set off with biodiversity specialist Bob Szaro on a virtual tour of Costa Rica that takes in its mountains, tropical forests, beaches, and wildlife—all part of the mix of elements that define this land of “pura vida,” or “pure life.”

The Art of Stamp Design

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

You’ve likely had her work in your hands—and on your cards and letters. Now meet art director Ethel Kessler, who designed more than 300 beautiful stamps for the US Postal Service, including the now-iconic Breast Cancer Awareness stamp.

Mary Todd Lincoln: A Dramatic Life

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

Abraham Lincoln’s wife endured being caricatured as a shrew, spendthrift, and national embarrassment. Her biographer Jean H. Baker and playwright James Still, author of the upcoming The Widow Lincoln, offer portraits of this often-polarizing figure that contests the conventional wisdom that has encrusted our understanding of a fascinating woman. In cooperation with Ford’s Theatre.

Frank Lloyd Wright: His Life, His Work, His Legacy

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

Architecture and urban studies lecturer Bill Keene offers a portrait of a complex innovator whose life encompassed acclaim and triumph as well as scandal and tragedy. Tom Wright, the architect’s grandson, provides a look at the joys and challenges of living in and maintaining a Wright-designed house in Bethesda. (World Art History Certificate elective)

Medieval England Through Its Art and Archaeology

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

Art historian Lawrence Butler illuminates the history of England from the 7th to 14th centuries by examining treasures from a buried ship, the illuminated Lindsfarne Gospels, the Bayeux Tapestry, and majestic Canterbury Cathedral. (World Art History Certificate elective)

The Cloisters: Medieval Manhattan

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

Part urban oasis and part time machine, the Metropolitan Museum’s Cloisters houses some of the world’s most stunning medieval objects and architecture. Art historian Judy Scott Feldman brings to life the era’s heart and soul as reflected in the masterpieces of this collection. (World Art History Certificate elective)

Reading Your Way to a Well-Educated Mind

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

Does passing a bookshelf remind you of all the titles you’ve promised yourself to someday pick up again but never did? Writer and historian Susan Wise Bauer offers a refresher overview of three genres—the novel, autobiography, and history—that can help you discover new insights and joys as you return to some of your favorite works.

The Cold War

Saturday, February 7, 2015 at 10 a.m.

In the post-WWII era, relations between East and West were shadowed by fear, suspicion, and the possibility of nuclear conflict. Historian Marcus Jones explores the origins and the legacy of this era from an international perspective.

Pierre L’Enfant, the Man Who Designed Washington

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

The nation’s founders shaped the philosophical and political vision of a newly independent republic. Pierre L’Enfant translated that vision into physical reality. Author Scott W. Berg examines L’Enfant’s work in the artistic and political context of his times, and how his enduring influence is reflected in today’s Washington.

The Baby in the King Cake and Other Mardi Gras Mysteries

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

The roots of Mardi Gras, like those of New Orleans itself, are complex, rich, and wonderfully varied. Historian Emily Landau guides you through a lively social history of this pre-Lenten celebration—and offers a king cake tasting, too.

Behind the Science with Joe Palca: Insights from Scientific Innovators

Tuesday, February 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 Anthony Fauci and global health. Part of a 5-Session Lecture Series.

Fiery Forces: Volcanoes on Earth and Beyond

Wednesday, February 18, 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.

A Day at the Musee d’Orsay

Saturday, February 21, 2015 at 10 a.m.

Spend a glorious day with art historian Linda Skalet as she explores the treasures within one of Paris’s most iconic museums. The d’Orsay’s collection—spanning neoclassicism and romanticism to impressionism, expressionism, and art nouveau design—captures the excitement of art in the early modern era. (A French-themed lunch is included.)

African American Lives in the American Revolution

Saturday, February 21, 2015 at 10 a.m.

How did African American people in the Revolutionary era pursue happiness? Historian Richard Bell examines a familiar period from the less-familiar perspective of its enslaved peoples and free persons of color.

Royal Revenge: Charles Spencer on the Fate of the Killers of Charles I

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

In early 1648, a tribunal of 135 men did the unthinkable: They condemned a sitting British monarch to death. Historian Charles Spencer—a direct descendant of that king—examines the violent clash of ideals that led to the execution, and the individuals whose fates were determined by a momentous decision.

Bootleggers, Bathtubs, and Speakeasies: Tales From Prohibition

Tuesday, February 24, 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.

Along the Coast of Many Cultures: Croatia from Pula to Dubrovnik

Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

The art and architectural treasures of Croatia reflect centuries of cultural influences, with Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, and Ottomans all leaving their mark. Art historian Aneta Georgievska-Shine examines the legacy of this history.

Billie Holiday: Lady Sings the Blues

Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

When Billie Holiday stepped in front of a microphone, audiences heard more than a one-of-a-kind voice: She revealed a life, in all its pain and triumph. Jazz expert John Edward Hasse follows Holiday’s extraordinary journey from abused Baltimore girl to troubled but brilliant singer. 

Creating the Visual World of Game of Thrones

Thursday, February 26, 2015 at 6:45 p.m.

Production designer Deborah Riley is responsible for creating the stunning settings against which HBO’s saga of power, family, revenge and romance plays out. Learn how she and a small army of craftsmen give the series its distinctive visual style.

Augustine of Hippo: Christianity at the Crossroads

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

For nearly two millennia, Augustine’s arguments, insights, and ideas on faith have profoundly shaped the Western intellectual tradition. Augustine scholar Scott MacDonald explores some of those enduringly compelling ideas.

Turning Salt into Gold: With Tastings and Pairings

Saturday, February 28, 2015 at 1 p.m.

Learn about salt’s history and how it’s shaking things up in today’s culinary world from leading salt expert Mark Bitterman. Enjoy tastings featuring six dazzling artisan-made salts and find out how to use one of nature’s most ancient ingredients to perform miracles in the modern kitchen.

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 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.

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.

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