Lectures & Seminars



Programs listed below are in chronological order.

Solving the Higgs Puzzle: The Evolution that Led to the Higgs Boson

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

Theoretical physicist Jim Gates follows the half-century quest to prove the existence of a particle that underlies the Standard Model of physics—and what its observation in 2012 means for our understanding of the universe.

A Geology-Lover’s Guide to the Mid-Atlantic

Saturday, September 6, 2014 at 10 a.m.

Lava flows in the Shenandoah? Ancient undersea avalanches in Great Falls? Some of our favorite places to explore nature in the region have a fascinating geological past. Geologist Callan Bentley provides a glimpse into the histories beneath our hiking boots.

James McNeill Whistler: Finding the Man and the Artist

Monday, September 8, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

As a figure whose creative and public lives combined achievement, controversy, and fame, James McNeill Whistler created the modern model for artist as celebrity. Biographer Daniel E. Sutherland and director Karen Thomas, whose documentary on Whistler premieres on PBS in September, examine the complex creator behind the flamboyance and flair.

The Supreme Court: A Preview of the New Term

Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at 10 a.m.

Spend a morning getting a rare behind-the-scenes look at the Supreme Court—including the courtroom where cases are argued. Then, a panel of top legal experts previews the issues that will come before the court when the new session begins in October.

The Supreme Court: A Preview of the New Term (Afternoon Panel Only)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at 1:30 p.m.

Smithsonian Associates Members Only: Spend the afternoon with a panel of top legal experts who will preview the issues that will come before the Supreme Court when the new session begins in October.

21st-Century Astronomy: Expanding the Universe and Knowledge

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

NASA astronomer Sten Odenwald looks at the how the frontiers in astronomy and space science are being expanded and the tools that will help us further explore and understand the cosmos.

Charters of Freedom: Debating the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution

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

In a lively, interactive Smithsonian Debate in which the audience plays a key role, specialists in early American history examine which seminal document more strongly shaped America’s history—and wields a more powerful influence on today’s national life.

Star Trek’s Never-ending Voyage: How TV Future Became Real-Life Present

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

The original Star Trek series did far more than expand the boundaries of outer space. For Margaret Weitekamp of the Air and Space Museum, the 1960s show propelled social, cultural, and technological changes in life on planet Earth.

Degas and Cassatt: An Artistic Dialogue

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

The nearly 40-year friendship of Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt reflects a professional and personal connection between two strong and distinct artistic sensibilities. Aneta Georgievska-Shine traces the influence that relationship had on the painters—and on impressionist art.

Moonshine Goes Modern

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

“White lightning” is shedding its less-than-savory backwoods reputation—or at least some of it. Matt Ostrom, the creator of Discovery’s Moonshiners, Tim Smith, a Virginia maker featured on the series, and Chuck Miller of Belmont Farm Distillery in Culpeper explain why today’s adventurous drinkers are taking a shine to moonshine.

Styles of Western Architecture: From the Parthenon to the Guggenheim

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

Examine classical temples, Gothic cathedrals, chateaux, and skyscrapers as this illustrated seminar surveys the styles and pivotal structures that define Western architecture.

The Next Hunger Games? Writing for the Hot Young-Adult Fiction Market

Saturday, September 13, 2014 at 10 a.m.

Author Kathryn Johnson and a panel of five novelists provide practical guidance for writers—both aspiring and active—in this booming genre.

Traveling the Silk Road: Caravans, Commerce, and Cultures

Saturday, September 13, 2014 at 10 a.m.

With stops including Byzantium, the steppes of China’s frontier, and the Mongol empires of Eurasia, art historian Lawrence Butler follows the legendary Silk Road to illustrate cultural encounters through art, archaeology, and literature.

Michelangelo in Rome: An Architectural Journey

Monday, September 15, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

In a richly illustrated program, independent scholar and Rome enthusiast George Sullivan examines all of Michelangelo’s significant Roman architectural projects—achievements that made him both the father of the Baroque style of architecture and of modern city planning. 

Personality: The Bigger Picture

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

How much are we defined as individuals—for better or worse—by what we know as personality traits? Todd Kashdan, a professor of psychology at George Mason University, suggests that there are deeper and more complex aspects of identity that can help guide our approach to life.

The Battle of Cedar Creek: Crossroads in the Fight for the Shenandoah Valley

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Warren Perry, a former writer at the National Portrait Gallery, recounts the story of the bloody encounter in which nearly 50,000 men fought for control of the “breadbasket of the Confederacy.” He also discusses several objects in Smithsonian collections with connections to the battle.

Petra: Rose City of the Desert

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Once isolated by geography and history, this ancient city is the focus of renewed interest among travelers. Jessica Pociask opens up the archaeological wonders of western Jordan’s World Heritage Site.

Dressing DC for the Small Screen: Costume Designers from House of Cards and The Americans

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Who says our town has no style? In this conversation about fashion, Washington, and how the two intersect on a hit series, hear from costume designers Jenny Gering (The Americans) and Tom Broecker (season one of House of Cards).

Ken Follett: Looking Back at the Tumultuous 20th Century

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Storyteller extraordinaire Ken Follett discusses Edge of Eternity, the final installment of his epic Century Trilogy, which follows the saga of five intertwined who loved, hated, fought, and lived large against the backdrop of churning social, political, and economic turmoil.

The Darkest Temptation: A Celebration of Chocolate

Thursday, September 18, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Whether it’s savored from a candy box, sipped hot from a mug, or coating a single perfect strawberry (or these days, a single perfect piece of bacon), chocolate is something of which we can never get enough. Food historian and author Francine Segan gets to the delicious center of our love affair with it.

Shonda Rhimes: TV's Ultimate Show Runner

Friday, September 19, 2014 at 7 p.m.

Shonda Rhimes, the creative force behind Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, knows how to put together hit shows that become national obsessions. She shares a few of the secrets of how she does it, and talks about why she’s made it a priority to cast some of the most diverse shows on TV.

Masters of the Dutch Golden Age: Hals, Rembrandt, Steen, and Vermeer

Saturday, September 20, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

The portraits, landscapes, and interior scenes that capture life in 17th-century Holland have a glow and intensity that instantly define a distinctive time and place. Art historian Aneta Georgievska-Shine looks at the masters behind these painterly visions.

Mozart in Vienna

Saturday, September 20, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s personal and musical life was inextricably bound up in the city of Vienna. Musicologist Daniel Freeman traces the creative interplay of artist and place.

World War I: The War To End All Wars

Saturday, September 20, 2014 at 10:15 a.m.

The unprecedented scale of World War I’s devastation and loss redefined the concept of “total war.” Marcus Jones, a history professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, explores the origins and the legacy of the most consequential conflict of the 20th century. 

Korean Food Heats Up

Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Join Steve Kim, creator of KimKim Korean Hot Sauce, and chef Todd Johnson as they explore the heritage of Korean cooking and the ingredients that create its characteristic intensity. Then try your hand at some dishes to add to your at-home Korean repertoire.

The Soaring Trajectory of Sally Ride’s Life: Remembering America’s First Woman in Space

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Lynn Sherr, a former ABC News reporter who covered the space program, discusses her new biography of the daring and brilliant woman who broke NASA’s “celestial ceiling.”

Swedish Art at the Ambassador’s Residence

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Discover tapestries, period furniture, modern crystal, and a significant collection of Swedish art on a private visit to the home of Ambassador Bjorn Lyrvall. Karin Alexis, an art and architectural historian, sets the paintings and sculpture into an historical framework of Swedish culture.  

Thomas Jefferson’s Eloquent Legacy: Letters from Monticello

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Thomas Jefferson, an inveterate correspondent, left behind roughly 18,000 letters. J. Jefferson Looney, who served as editor (and sometimes, detective) on an edition of the documents of his final years, reveals the insights into Jefferson’s brilliant mind that these materials offer.

Synthesizing Art and Science Through the Senses: Exploring the Aesthetics of DNA

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

A panel of artists, scholars, and scientists comes together for a fascinating conversation on how arts and popular culture can provide unique insights into the narrative of human history told through our DNA. Afterward, raise a glass to the science and the art of winemaking in a special tasting.

The Wars of the Roses: Family Feud, Plantagenet Style

Thursday, September 25, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Tudor and Renaissance scholar Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger looks the clash of the Yorks and Lancasters, exploring how family dysfunction played out on England’s national stage—and its history.

When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation

Saturday, September 27, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

Author Ronald C. Rosbottom brings to life the grim and dangerous days of wartime Paris, evoking the detail of daily life in a city under military and civilian occupation and the brave people who fought against it.

Downsizing with Style: Living Large in Compact Spaces

Saturday, September 27, 2014 at 10 a.m.

Designer Lauri Ward knows that less square footage doesn’t have to lessen comfort, function, or elegance in a downsized home. She shares some great decorating strategies for getting the most out of smaller spaces.

You Said, I Said: How Conversations Work

Saturday, September 27, 2014 at 10:30 a.m.

This lively program led by linguist Anne Curzan examines the details of conversational dynamics, and is filled with great practical tips for navigating everyday exchanges at work, home, out on the town, and online.

Bob Colacello on Andy Warhol

Monday, September 29, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Though Andy Warhol coined the phrase “famous for 15 minutes,” he’s never been out of the spotlight since he unveiled those now-iconic soup cans in the early 1960s. Biographer, pal, and confidant Bob Colacello offers a highly personal portrait of the artist as a new edition of his book, Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up, makes its appearance.

Richard Nixon’s Secret White House Tapes: Echoes of a Cover-up

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 at 7 p.m.

Historian Ken Hughes, a research specialist on the White House tapes, unravels how the Watergate cover-up connects to wider revelations of secrets and lies in the Nixon administration.

Amazing Iceland

Wednesday, October 1, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Glaciers, volcanoes, hot springs—and Vikings—produced a rich tapestry of natural and human history in Iceland. Geologist Jim Zimbelman provides a personal guide to the island nation, as well as some great tips for visitors to this cool country that’s become a hot travel destination.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

Thursday, October 2, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Author Karen Abbott reveals how charm, disguise, daring, and a steady trigger finger propelled a quartet of remarkable women through dangerous intrigues.

An Afternoon in Paris: Lunch at Le Diplomate

Tuesday, October 7, 2014 at 12 p.m.

Savor a private lunch planned by chef Michael Abt, who heads the kitchen at this runaway hit bistro, and you’ll swear 14th Street looks a lot like your favorite arrondissement.

African Edens: On Safari with Russell Gammon

Tuesday, October 7, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Russell Gammon, a professional guide and third-generation Zimbabwean, leads you to two of Africa’s most iconic safari destinations—the Okavango river delta in Botswana and the Serengeti plains—to explore the continent’s stunning natural beauty and the wildlife of the wilderness.

Oracles, Chimeras, and Bears, Oh My: Is There Science Behind Ancient Stories?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

What if some of the fantastic creatures and places that are the stuff of legends actually might have existed? Science writer Sarah Zielinski looks at evidence from the natural world that could have inspired ten strange and familiar stories.

Vint Cerf and the Making of the Internet: From DARPA to Darn Near Everywhere

Wednesday, October 8, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Forty years ago, Vint Cerf was one of the visionaries who developed the communications protocols that allow computers everywhere to share data. Now, 25 years after the Internet changed our lives, he reflects on the birth of the cyber-communications revolution.

Giacomo Puccini: The Man Who Loved Women

Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Mimi, Tosca, Turandot, Butterfly, and Manon: Their music touches your soul and their stories break your heart. Opera expert Fred Plotkin explores Puccini’s gallery of unforgettable heroines, and singers from Washington National Opera perform.

Umbria, Italy’s “Cuore Verde”

Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Food historian Francine Segan leads a delightful virtual tour the “Green Heart of Italy,” with Perugia, Assisi, Spoleto, and Orvieto among the stops on the itinerary. And get a distinctive taste of the region in a tasting of wine and truffle products. 

USS Monitor: Symbol, Landmark, and Sanctuary

Saturday, October 11, 2014 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.

Henry Rollins on the DC Punk Scene

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Hometown boy Henry Rollins recalls his role in the influential hardcore punk scene of 1980s Washington and the trailblazing artists it spawned.

The Wyeth Dynasty: The Worlds of N.C., Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Over more than a century, three generations of Wyeths have created a collective portrait of America. Art historian Bonita Billman traces the family tradition reflected in their disparate subjects and styles.

Birds and Humans: Exploring a Timeless Connection

Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Master birder Victor Emanuel explains why birds have fascinated us since ancient times, as well as how the observation of these winged creatures can deeply affect our lives in unexpected ways.

Faith and Fantasy: The Medieval Illuminated Manuscript

Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Art historian Judy Scott Feldman looks at the ways in which the monk-artists who created sumptuous religious texts such as the Book of Kells used the Celtic love of intricate pattern and dazzling color to leave a lasting impact on the art of Europe’s early Middle Ages and beyond.

DC’s Top Women Chefs

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Washington's dining scene seems to be growing exponentially by the minute. Many of the new powers behind the new established restaurants are women. Tonight, In a conversation moderated by Jessica Sidman, food writer at Washington City Paper, star chefs Nora Pouillon, Ris Lacoste, and Marjorie Meek-Bradley discuss what it’s like to work in restaurant industry, and what’s next on the region’s culinary horizon.

Dr. Livingstone’s Lost Diary: Technology Opens a Window on History

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Written in berry juice on newspapers, the contents of the 1871 field diary on which legendary explorer David Livingstone recorded his observations on the African slave trade faded to near-invisibility in just a few years. A team of scholars, scientists, and spectral imaging experts have revealed his words again.

Documented: Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas on Life as an Undocumented Immigrant

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

He’s a Pulitzer Prize winner who has interviewed Al Gore for Rolling Stone and Mark Zuckerberg for the New Yorker—and an undocumented immigrant. Jose Antonio Vargas discusses his life as an American with the Newseum’s Frank Bond.

An Enchanted Evening with Rodgers and Hammerstein

Thursday, October 23, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Robert Wyatt celebrates the team whose work redefined the structure, spirit, and sound of the American musical.

Confucius and Friends: The Golden Age of Chinese Philosophy

Saturday, October 25, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

Chinese history scholar Edward McCord illuminates the precepts of the golden age of Chinese philosophy (6th to 2nd centuries B.C.), which would provide a lasting foundation for East Asian culture and society for the next 2,000 years. 

The Russian Empire: The Creation of a Global Giant

Saturday, October 25, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

As the current struggle between Ukraine and Russia demands our attention, there are some who worry we may be witnessing attempts to reconstitute the former Russian Empire. Historian George Munro provides insights into the people and events that led to the empire’s creation and a key to understanding the issues at play today.

Oriental Rugs: Beauty Underfoot

Saturday, October 25, 2014 at 10 a.m.

Prized for their beauty, Oriental rugs have been woven in the Near East for more than 4,000 years—and coveted as objects of splendor for just as long. If you are considering purchasing one for your home, listen to antique rug experts Michael Seiden, Tom Xanakis, and Rick Seyford talk about the history of these objects and provide tips on what to look for (or look out for) when buying a rug.

Halloween Changes Its Disguise: Has the Witching Season Grown Up?

Monday, October 27, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Nobody—except maybe zombies—thinks of Halloween as a romantic holiday. Daniel Gifford, a holiday scholar, illustrates how a century ago buxom witches and swooning cupids were part of the day’s iconography—and reflected the changing social climate in America.

Inside the Six-Day War

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

It took Israel only six days in June 1967 to immobilize the airpower of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, but the legacy of that lightning war still shapes the seemingly intractable search for Mideast peace. Ralph Nurnberger, a professor of international relations at Georgetown University, uncovers the roots of the war and reveals little-known events leading up to it.

Dave Broom’s World Atlas of Whisky

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

Whisky expert Dave Broom leads a toast to the history, lore, and enjoyment of this versatile spirit. And raise your own at a tasting that follows the program.

Shifting Power in the Opera House: Creative Dramas, Prima Donnas, and the Evolution of an Art

Saturday, November 1, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

Whose voice dominates the world of opera: the composer, librettist, director, conductor, singer, designer, or manager? Saul Lilienstein traces the shifts from one center of artistic power to the next as he covers five centuries of evolution in this most sublime of arts.

Existentialism: The Human Search for Meaning

Saturday, November 8, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

Francis J. Ambrosio of Georgetown University examines the origins, themes, and influences of the cultural and philosophical movement that grew out of—and helped define—the 20th century.

In Search of the Emerald Isle’s Many Colors

Saturday, November 8, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

Discover much more than 50 shades of green when travel writer Reid Bramblett shares tips on the country’s best and sets you on the road to discovering the magic—old and new—found only in Ireland.

Chris Matthews: When Politics Wasn’t Hardball

Wednesday, November 12, 2014 at 7 p.m.

The television host recalls how his former boss, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, the ultimate Washington insider, forged an unlikely working relationship with Ronald Reagan, his polar opposite.

Istanbul: The World in a City

Thursday, November 13, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.

For centuries, Istanbul has been a city where Europe and Asia meet, producing a fabled and fascinating mix of cultures, cuisines, and traditions. Travel writer Nigel Gilchrist opens its wonders.

Florence and Venice: An Artistic Tale of Two Renaissance Cities

Saturday, November 15, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

This fascinating seminar explores the tale of two cities during the Renaissance—Florence and Venice, rich, confident, magnificently beautiful, and powerhouses of creativity—and the artists they nurtured, including the contrasting geniuses of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian.

Making the Most of Your Memory

Saturday, November 15, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

Neurologist Barry Gordon, founder of the Memory Clinic at Johns Hopkins, looks at how memory works and how to sharpen it at any age.

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