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Biography & Autobiography Programs


Marisol: A Pop Art Superstar

Thursday, February 9, 2023 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET

Glamorous, sophisticated, worldly, and wickedly funny, Marisol Escobar, better known simply as “Marisol,” was the most famous and successful female Pop artist. Art historian Nancy G. Heller examines Marisol’s major works and career, with particular attention to the difficulties of a female Latinx artist in a world dominated by white men. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)


Winslow Homer: Capturing an America in Transformation

Wednesday, February 22, 2023 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET

In-Person Program Only: Winslow Homer (1836–1910) has often been called America’s favorite painter. His work was both quintessentially American and quietly replete with narratives for and about people of all races and ages. Drawing on his new biography, Winslow Homer: American Passage, William R. Cross offers an illustrated look at the man behind the art and examines Homer’s role in American culture. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)


Gene Kelly: Singing and Dancing in the Rain

Thursday, February 23, 2023 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. ET

Gene Kelly, one of the most engaging and influential dancers to ever set foot in Hollywood, emerged as a star at a time when most movie dancing was basically a showcase for elegant partners in motion. In a program illustrated with video clips, Brian Rose, professor emeritus at Fordham University, surveys Kelly’s remarkable achievements and examines his enduring impact on Hollywood dancing.


Wildfire: The Life and Works of Edmonia Lewis

Thursday, February 23, 2023 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET

Nineteenth-century artist Edmonia Lewis, the daughter of a Black man and a Native American woman, overcame poverty and racial and gender-based discrimination to become an enormously successful professional sculptor based in Rome. Art historian Nancy G. Heller discusses Lewis’s place within the broader context of American Neoclassicism and African American art history. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)


Frederick Douglass: Autobiographer

Thursday, February 23, 2023 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET

During the 19th century, the great civil rights leader Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) was a celebrated orator, editor, and writer. Join Douglass scholar Robert S. Levine as he focuses on Douglass the autobiographer and considers the significant changes and additions he made to his later autobiographies, My Bondage and My Freedom and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.


Edith Wilson: The First (Unelected) Woman President

Tuesday, March 14, 2023 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET

While this nation has yet to elect its first woman president, just over a century ago Edith Bolling Galt Wilson effectively acted as one when her husband Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated. Rebecca Boggs Roberts, a leading historian on women’s suffrage and power, examines the complicated figure whose personal quest for influence reshaped the position of first lady into one of lasting political prominence.


Thomas Gainsborough: Beyond the Blue Boy

Thursday, March 23, 2023 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET

Thomas Gainsborough, one of the most important British artists of the second half of the 18th century, was also one of England’s earliest homegrown geniuses. Art historian Bonita Billman examines Gainsborough’s lush painterly technique, iconic masterworks (especially those in America), and his influence on painting. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)


Montgomery Meigs in Washington: Beyond the Civil War

Friday, March 24, 2023 - 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET

From the Capitol dome to the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building, the work of architect and builder Montgomery Meigs is still part of our region’s landscape. Spend a day focused on Washington history and architecture to discover the many facets and achievements of the former Civil War officer who helped define and develop an enduring vision of the capital city. Lecturer in history, urban studies, and architecture Bill Keene leads the tour.


An Enemy of the People? Niccolò Machiavelli in Context

Wednesday, March 29, 2023 - 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET

Author Ross King reveals why Florentine statesman Niccolò Machiavelli’s writings are more sophisticated than even the most Machiavellian passages of The Prince would seem to suggest. King offers a portrait of a perceptive writer who is far from being an enemy of the human race, and whose lessons on leadership, liberty, virtue, and good government are worth re-examining today.


J.M.W. Turner and the Art of the Sublime

Thursday, March 30, 2023 - 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET

British artist J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851) is known for innovative landscape paintings that captured nature’s power and drama. Tim Barringer, a professor of art history at Yale University, places a selection of Turner’s works in historical context.


J. Robert Oppenheimer: Genius, Tragedy, Ethics, and the First Atomic Bomb

Tuesday, April 11, 2023 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET

Robert Oppenheimer never really thought about the ethics of the atomic bomb until the successful test of a plutonium device at Alamogordo, New Mexico, in July 1945. Then, one of the most highly educated men of the 20th century felt an inrush of ethical anguish and spent the rest of his life trying to come to terms with what he, what America, and what humankind had done. Historian Clay Jenkinson examines the gated world of Los Alamos, the race to build the bomb, Oppenheimer’s ethical quandry about nuclear warfare—and the price he paid for it.


Celebrating Brahms: The Man, His Music, and His Legacy

Tuesday, April 18, 2023 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET

With his soaring melodies, rich harmonies, and rhythmic vigor, Johannes Brahms is among the immortals, his name linked with Bach’s and Beethoven’s as one of the “Three B’s” of classical music. Opera and classical music expert Saul Lilienstein examines the breadth of Brahms’ extraordinary career, from his teenage years playing piano in the brothels of Hamburg to his sweeping triumphs in Vienna and international recognition as the greatest living symphonist.


Rasputin: The Man Who Would Not Die

Tuesday, April 18, 2023 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET

More than 100 years after his death, few figures in Russian history evoke as much fascination as Gregori Rasputin, often portrayed as the “Mad Monk” who became the political power behind Tzar Nicholas II and his family. Historian Ralph Nurnberger explores the labyrinth of stories surrounding the life and death of one of the early-20th century’s most intriguing characters.


Isabella Stewart Gardner: A Global Vision of Art

Tuesday, April 25, 2023 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET

Isabella Stewart Gardner assembled an extraordinary collection of art from diverse cultures and eras and built a Venetian-style palazzo in Boston to share her exquisite treasures with the world. Diana Seave Greenwald, assistant curator of the collection at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, shines new light on Gardner as a trailblazing patron and collector who created a museum unprecedented in its curatorial vision. She also discusses how Gardner’s far-flung journeys to fill that museum—recorded in her exquisitely crafted collaged travel albums—reveal the global influences of this legendary collector. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)


To Have and Have Another: The Life and Times (and Cocktails) of Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, May 4, 2023 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. ET

In addition to being one of the 20th century’s greatest writers, Ernest Hemingway lived a big, bold, adventurous life filled with exploits all over the world. You could say that he traveled globally and drank locally. Author Philip Greene, a co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail, examines the life, prose, travels, and adventures of Hemingway through the lens of his favorite drinks, watering holes, and drinking buddies. Enjoy light snacks and four cocktail samples and raise a toast to Papa.


George Gershwin: Our Love Is Here to Stay

Tuesday, May 23, 2023 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET

George Gershwin is one of the giants of American music, unique in that he was a brilliant composer of both popular songs (“Swanee,” “I Got Rhythm,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”) and more serious music, including Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris, and Porgy and Bess. Pianist and Gershwin authority Robert Wyatt explores the composer’s much too short life (he died at age 38) and legacy. S’wonderful!