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Biography & Autobiography Programs


Jane Austen: Forever Fascinating

Saturday, June 3, 2023 - 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. ET

Why do so many readers throughout the world still clamor for the books of Jane Austen? And why is her life the subject of ongoing fascination? Joseph Luzzi, a professor of comparative literature at Bard College, explores the remarkable career and life of a woman who overcame countless obstacles to become a deeply revered author.


Aaron Burr: The Most Controversial Founding Father

Monday, June 5, 2023 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET

Aaron Burr was a hero of the Revolutionary War, a United States senator, and the third vice president, preceded only by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Yet his legacy is usually defined by his role in the presidential election of 1800, his potential attempt to create a breakaway nation for which he faced a trial for treason, and most notably his 1804 duel with Hamilton leading to Burr’s indictment in two states for murder. Historian Ralph Nurnberger discusses the many facets of this fascinating early American political leader and whether he’s best remembered as a patriot or a villain.


Lady Jane Grey: First Tudor Queen or Royal Traitor?

Wednesday, June 21, 2023 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET

For several days after the death of young King Edward VI in early July 1553, two women considered themselves the ruler of England: his Catholic half-sister Mary Tudor and Lady Jane Grey Dudley. Tudor scholar and historian Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger explores the woman at the heart of the conflict as she considers the life and character of Jane Grey; the political and personal forces at play in Tudor England; Jane’s complicated relationship with Mary Tudor—and why it was necessary for one of them to lose her life.


Philip Johnson and the Glass House: A Life in Art

Thursday, June 22, 2023 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET

The Glass House, the iconic former Connecticut home of architect Philip Johnson, is now a National Trust for Historic Preservation site that serves as a center for art, architecture, and culture. Hilary Lewis, chief curator of the Glass House, examines it as a signature work of modern architecture, its roles as a laboratory for architecture and a salon for the arts, and the extraordinary and complex figure behind it. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)


A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes

Tuesday, July 11, 2023 - 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET

Dorothy Liebes was one of the most influential textile designers of the mid-20th century. The exhibition “A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes” opens at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum on July 7. Join organizers Susan Brown, associate curator and acting head of textiles, and Alexa Griffith Winton, manager of content and curriculum, to explore Liebes’ life and work.


Leonard Bernstein: The Man Who Could Do Anything

Saturday, July 15, 2023 - 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET

Anyone who encountered Leonard Bernstein will never forget the experience. Music lecturer Saul Lilienstein, who studied conducting with Bernstein and frequently performed with him, explores the dimensions of his musical contributions, his charisma, and the complexities of his life. This music-filled day is the perfect prelude to the upcoming Maestro, a Bernstein biopic in which Bradley Cooper doubles as director and star.


Virginia Woolf's Literary Genius

Saturday, July 15, 2023 - 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. ET

Why is Virginia Woolf considered one of the most important authors of all time? Join Joseph Luzzi, a professor of literature at Bard College, as he explores Woolf’s remarkable literary contributions. Discover why her innovative writing style, extraordinary emotional insights, and profound level of learning continue to enchant readers worldwide and attract new audiences.


Rediscovering James Garfield: From Radical to Unifier

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

Far from simply being a president who was assassinated weeks after taking office, James Garfield might be the most accomplished American statesman of the 19th century says his biographer C.W. Goodyear. He shines a spotlight on a forgotten president and progressive statesman who quietly shaped the rise—and fall—of Reconstruction and was a national peacemaker whose attempts to heal rifts in the postwar Republican Party resulted in his murder.


Frida Kahlo: Her Art and Life

Thursday, July 27, 2023 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET

Labeled a Surrealist because of the fantastical, often nightmarish quality of her paintings, Frida Kahlo always countered that she didn’t paint dreams: She painted her own reality. Art historian Nancy G. Heller examines the brief, often-difficult life that shaped that reality and examines Kahlo’s work, looking beyond the famous self-portraits to include landscapes, still lifes, and other distinctive subjects.(World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)


George Washington in Barbados: A Remarkable Journey

Monday, July 31, 2023 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET

George Washington left America only once, when he sailed to Barbados with his half-brother Lawrence in 1751. Historian Ralph Nurnberger details this lesser-known but significant voyage and highlights the impact it had on the 19-year-old Washington, his career, and the outcome of the American Revolution.


Ayn Rand: The Controversy Continues

Tuesday, August 8, 2023 - 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET

Few people are neutral about Russian-American writer and philosopher Ayn Rand. She generated legions of fans—and detractors—through her bestselling books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and the philosophy of Objectivism she founded and espoused. Why is Rand so controversial to this day? Onkar Ghate, a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, explores some of the central ideas of Rand’s worldview and why they continue to draw both devoted adherents and impassioned rejection.


Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks: Grandmasters of Comedy

Wednesday, August 9, 2023 - 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET

For more than seven decades, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks made America laugh. Media historian Brian Rose takes a look at (and gives a listen to) their extraordinary achievements, from their work together on comedian Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” and their creation of the classic 2,000-year-old man sketches to their accomplishments as writers, directors, and performers.


Andy Warhol's World History

Monday, August 14, 2023 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET

Join Grace Marston, arts educator at the Andy Warhol Museum, as she delves into how historical events affected Andy Warhol’s art and life. Marston presents artworks from the museum’s permanent collection, including works that are rarely on public display. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit per session)


Kurt Weill: Romantic Satirist, Modern Populist

Tuesday, August 15, 2023 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET

In a program highlighted by live performances, pianist and lecturer Rachel Franklin traces Kurt Weill’s creative journey from Weimar Germany to Broadway. He explores the early works that led to Weill’s extraordinary partnership with Bertolt Brecht and his subsequent artistic evolution in the United States, working with lyricists including Ira Gershwin, Langston Hughes, and Maxwell Anderson—collaborations that produced such beloved songs as “Speak Low,” “September Song,” “Lost in the Stars,” and “My Ship.”


The Genius of Sergei Rachmaninoff

Wednesday, September 6, 2023 - 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. ET

Utterly extraordinary as pianist, conductor, and composer, throughout his life Sergei Rachmaninoff bestrode the musical world like a colossus. In his 150th birthday year, popular speaker and concert pianist Rachel Franklin celebrates his prodigious mastery of all these fields in a two-part course enlivened by recordings, video clips, and demonstrations at her piano.


Over the Rainbow: The Hollywood Career of Judy Garland

Tuesday, September 12, 2023 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. ET

While Judy Garland was among the greatest live entertainers in show biz history and one of the top recording artists of her time, her appearances in front of the camera remain her legacy. Media historian Brian Rose examines her remarkable Hollywood career, which began in her young teens at MGM and continued with such timeless classics as The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, and her stirring comeback in 1954’s A Star is Born.


The Impact of Ferdinand and Isabella: From Christopher Columbus to Charles III

Wednesday, September 13, 2023 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET

When Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile married in 1469, they incorporated not only their two kingdoms but also independent Spanish dominions into a large, unified country that wielded political and religious power over much of Europe for years. Tudor scholar and historian Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger traces the history of this famous couple and their lasting impact on the thrones of several European nations.


Edward Hopper: American Modernist

Thursday, September 14, 2023 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET

Edward Hopper is widely regarded as one of the great American realists of modern art. His works capture a quintessential view of New York City that became part of our cultural fabric. Indeed, many noir films of the 1940s and 1950s reflect Hopper’s vision of city life reflected in his paintings: austere, silent, moody, and lonely. Art historian Bonita Billman explores the highlights of Hopper’s career and examines the sociopolitical and cultural contexts in which he lived and worked. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)