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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

Biography & Autobiography Programs

Wednesday, January 27, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. ET

Mel Brooks, Johnny Carson, and Carol Burnett—all recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors—made it look easy, but nothing is harder than comedy that seems effortless. Join Sara Lukinson, filmmaker and writer for the annual event for 38 years, for an evening full of laughs as she covers the remarkable lives of these legendary entertainers and screens clips of their hilarious performances.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021 - 6:30 p.m. ET

Join Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey for a sure-to-be-memorable interview with Gayle King as he shares unvarnished stories from his memoir Greenlights and explains how they instilled in him the importance of values, the power of new experiences, and, as he puts it, “either changing your reality or changing how you see it.”

Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. ET

Despite America's newly won independence, a bitter dispute over whether to have a capital and where to locate it almost tore the young nation apart. It is a little-known tale of founding-period intrigue and an underappreciated side of Washington's exceptional political skill and leadership. Historian Robert P. Watson, examines the key role George Washington played in settling this question, the forces that influenced Washington's passion and vision for the capital city, and the intense political struggle to build it

Friday, February 19, 2021 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. ET

Live from her home in Tuscany, art historian Elaine Ruffolo follows the extraordinary career of Piero della Francesca, acknowledged as one of the foundational artists of the Renaissance. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021 - 6:30 p.m. ET

The Russian immigrant originally named Israel Baline translated the spirit of his new country into enduringly popular music. American musical specialist Robert Wyatt covers Irving Berlin’s extraordinary life, spanning a half-century of achievement that produced songs for Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, radio, television, film, and a worldwide military audience.

Thursday, February 25, 2021 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET

Art historian Bonita Billman analyzes artist Edgar Degas’s contributions to French impressionist art and posterity, and looks at his role as an art collector of merit. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)

Thursday, February 25, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. ET

Frederick Douglass was a prophet who could see a better future that lay just beyond reach. Yet his life bursts with contradiction and change. Historian Richard Bell examines this many-sided figure’s life to reveal more than another great man on a pedestal.

Friday, February 26, 2021 - 7:00 p.m. ET

Legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker changed the world of music as one of the innovators of bebop. The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra’s artistic director and conductor Charlie Young, Dwandalyn R. Reece, curator music and performing arts at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Bobby Watson from the American Jazz Museum celebrate Parker’s sound and examine how his brilliance and charisma had an impact on the course of music like no other.

Monday, March 1 to Friday, March 5, 2021 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET

The British monarchy has outlasted most of its European counterparts, adapting to changing times and managing to maintain enough popularity to survive for more than a thousand years. Tudor scholar Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger traces a path through the lives and times of the kings and queens who have ruled England, then Great Britain, and finally the United Kingdom to examine how the monarchy has endured from the days of King Arthur to today.

Thursday, March 4, 2021 - 5:00 p.m. ET

Tom Stoppard is a towering and beloved literary figure known for his dizzying narrative inventiveness and intense attention to language. Hermione Lee discusses her new biography of one of our greatest living playwrights with longtime Stoppard collaborator Carey Perloff in a fascinating examination of his work and a riveting look at the life a remarkable man.

Thursday, March 4, 2021 - 8:00 p.m. ET

The Badlands of North Dakota transformed Theodore Roosevelt over the course of more than three decades, reinventing himself into the kind of vigorous outdoorsman he’d idealized as a youth—and that shaped his public image as president and a passionate conservationist. Roosevelt scholar and historian Clay Jenkinson tells the story that brings you into the heart of TR’s beloved west and the national park that bears his name.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET

Over more than five decades, the pioneering French modernist Henri Matisse created work in a dazzlingly wide range of materials and styles. Art historian Nancy G. Heller explores how all of Matisse’s diverse output reflects a unified aesthetic philosophy and investigates why his work continues to fascinate today’s creative minds. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)

Friday, March 12, 2021 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. ET

Sandro Botticelli’s art captures the shift from a mystical, symbolic medieval worldview to the more humanist ideals of the Early Renaissance. Art historian Elaine Ruffolo traces the life and times of this Florentine master from his rise as painter to the Medici bankers to his downfall as a devoted follower of fiery Savonarola. (World Art History Certificate elective, ½ credit)

Saturday, March 13, 2021 - 10:00 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. ET

In the early 20th century, Albert C. Barnes drew on expert guidance and his own fortune to assemble a dazzling collection of primarily French post-impressionist works that reflect his interest in the creators of his time. Bill Perthes, director of adult education at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, offers a comprehensive look at how a collector’s unique vision created an equally distinctive institution rooted in its founder’s belief that art has the power to improve minds and transform lives. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)

Monday, March 15, 2021 - 6:30 p.m. ET

Over the centuries, the dramatic life of Marie Antoinette has continued to fascinate. Decorative arts historian Stefanie Walker appraises Marie-Antoinette’s cultural legacy—and why the myths about her are so enduring.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - 6:30 p.m. ET

He’s the top! American music specialist Robert Wyatt leads a musical journey through Cole Porter’s dazzling career on Broadway and in Hollywood, his personal tragedies, and his legacy of some of the most deliciously witty, provocative, and elegant contributions  to the great American songbook.

Monday, March 22, 2021 - 6:30 p.m. ET

Young British stockbroker Nicholas Winton's split-second decision to save as many Jewish children as possible from the Nazis remained a secret for nearly 50 years. Historian Ralph Nurnberger highlights the story of this ordinary but remarkable man who was knighted for his efforts.

Saturday, March 27, 2021 - 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. ET

From a Dutch artist’s workshop and a Frankfurt classroom in the 17th century to the streets of Washington in the early 1900s to musical stages today, women have been making strides in their fields that have often been overlooked, uncredited, or forgotten by time. Celebrate Women’s History Month by spending a fascinating day with four experts who bring to light an array of remarkable women who have lived in the shadows of history far too long.