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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

Biography & Autobiography Programs


Reza Aslan on an American Martyr in Iran: The Howard Baskerville Story

Wednesday, October 12, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET

In-Person and Online Program: Join award-winning historian and bestselling author Reza Aslan as he highlights the complex and historic ties between America and Iran and the potential of a single individual to change the course of history. Aslan traces the epic journey of Howard Baskerville, a young Christian missionary, from South Dakota to Persia (modern-day Iran) to preach the gospel in the 20th century. But it would be political activism and not Christianity that would define his life and lead to his death as a martyr in a foreign land.


The Life and Times of Norman Cousins: A Peacemaker in the Atomic Age

Monday, October 17, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET

Best remembered as the longtime editor of the influential weekly magazine Saturday Review, Norman Cousins was also engaged in secret missions behind the Iron Curtain to conduct high-stakes negotiations directly with the Soviet leadership during the decades after WWII. Historian Allen Pietrobon discusses his enormous impact on the course of American public debate, international humanitarianism, and Cold-War diplomacy.


The Art of John Singer Sargent: Virtuosic Portraits, Seductive Dancers, Luscious Landscapes

Wednesday, October 19, 2022 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET

Famed for his opulent portraits of members of Gilded-Age society, John Singer Sargent was prolific, versatile, and sometimes controversial. Art historian Nancy G. Heller discusses Sargent’s colorful life and examines his most important works, including a selection of drawings and paintings to be featured in the National Gallery of Art’s upcoming exhibition Sargent in Spain. She also considers his place within the broader scope of Western art history and discusses what new scholarship reveals about his life and work. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)


The ENIAC Programmers: The Women Behind the First Modern Computer

Monday, October 24, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET

After the end of World War II, six pioneering women were assigned to program the new Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer—for which there were no instructional codes or programming languages to guide them. They succeeded, but their story was never told to the public. Author and documentary filmmaker Kathy Kleiman brings it—and these technological revolutionaries—out of the shadows.


500 Years of Anne Boleyn: The Woman Who Changed England’s History

Tuesday, October 25, 2022 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET

Ever since her life and death in the 16th century, historians and cultural representations have portrayed Anne Boleyn as a devout religious reformer, a blindly ambitious social climber, a heartless homewrecker, and everything in between. In a year that marks the 500th anniversary of Anne’s debut in the court of Henry VIII, Tudor scholar and historian Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger explores the story of the real woman, which is often lost.


Deconstructing Frank Gehry

Thursday, October 27, 2022 - 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET

The work of architect Frank Gehry is fascinating, imaginative, unexpected, and always fresh—as well as controversial, often-derided, and at times seen as the antithesis of good architecture. In a richly detailed program, Bill Keene, a lecturer in urban studies and architecture, examines Gehry’s life and career from his earliest buildings to works in progress. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)


The Revolutionary Samuel Adams

Tuesday, November 1, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET

In-Person and Online Program: Thomas Jefferson once asserted that "for depth of purpose, zeal, and sagacity, no man in Congress exceeded, if any equaled, Sam Adams." But in spite of his celebrated status among America's Founding Fathers, Samuel Adams' life and achievements have been largely overshadowed in the history books. In a spirited conversation educator, author, and speaker Rebecca Boggs Roberts, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stacy Schiff examines this often-overlooked founder.


The Irrepressible Rosa Bonheur: The 19th Century’s Most Famous Woman Artist

Wednesday, November 16, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET

An international celebrity during her lifetime, the reputation of prolific French animal painter Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899) faded  as the 20th century turned toward new art forms. In the 200th anniversary year of Bonheur’s birth, historian Nancy G. Heller celebrates her boldly unconventional personality and the achievements of a significant artistic career. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)


Misty Copeland: Honoring a Trailblazing Black Ballerina

Friday, November 18, 2022 - 6:00 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. ET

In-Person and Online Program: Misty Copeland made history as the first African American principal ballerina at American Ballet Theatre, an achievement in which another trailblazing Black ballerina—her mentor, the late Raven Wilkinson—played a key role. Drawing on her new book, The Wind at My Back, Copeland tells the story of two unapologetically Black ballerinas, their friendship, and how they changed each other—and the dance world—forever. online options.


The Many Lives of Joan of Arc

Wednesday, November 30, 2022 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET

Why does the story of Joan of Arc’s short life continue to live on in our history? Kevin J. Harty, medievalist and popular-culture scholar, examines the many facets and complexities of her life and legend in a fascinating program highlighted by examples of works of art, music, literature, advertisements, and film and television inspired by the Maid of Orléans.


Maria Sibylla Merian: A Biologist to the Bone

Thursday, December 1, 2022 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET

The aesthetic appeal of the images created by Maria Sibylla Merian (German, 1647–1717) has led history to label her as an artist who painted and etched natural history subjects. Kay Etheridge, a professor emeritus of biology at Gettysburg College, draws on Merian’s own words and art to reveal she was as passionate a naturalist (biologist in modern terms) as Charles Darwin or Carl Linnaeus.


Michelangelo's Women

Friday, December 2, 2022 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. ET

Michelangelo’s artistic audacity extended far beyond his heroic men to encompass an amazing cohort of authoritative, prophetic, nurturing, and active women. Art historian Elizabeth Lev looks at Michelangelo’s life and work to reveal how the Florentine master turned the tables on old tropes and stereotypes in his portrayals of women in daring, innovative, and empowering imagery. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)


The Rothschilds: From Frankfurt’s Judengasse to Bankers to the World

Thursday, December 8, 2022 - 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET

They spent centuries confined to the Judengasse ghetto in Frankfurt, earning a living peddling goods. But the Rothschild family moved past antisemitism, emerging as one of the world's wealthiest and most influential banking dynasties. Historian Ralph Nurnberger recounts their rags-to-riches story.


The Magic of Fred Astaire

Thursday, December 15, 2022 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. ET

Whether it was partnering with Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, Cyd Charisse, or a hat rack, Fred Astaire on film made everything appear easy and elegant. In a delightful program illustrated with video clips, media expert Brian Rose surveys the sweep of Astaire’s remarkable career, looking at his work both as a soloist and as the most romantic dance partner in Hollywood history.


Donatello: Artist of the Florentine Renaissance

Friday, December 16, 2022 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. ET

A technical master, Donatello broke new ground in the methods he used and the forms he chose to develop, leaving behind a legacy of creations that seem startlingly modern. Art historian Elaine Ruffolo highlights the life and work of this artist who embodied the ideas of the Renaissance in sculpture. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)


Ian Fleming: The Creator of James Bond

Wednesday, January 11, 2023 - 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET

You might call Ian Fleming—who introduced a British Secret Service agent named James Bond to the world with Casino Royale in 1952—The Man with the Golden Typewriter. The 14 Bond books he authored sparked a global sensation, sold tens of millions of copies, and became the source for the longest-running film franchise in history. In an evening in the dashing Bond spirit, author Daniel Stashower explores Ian Fleming’s life and legacy, while actor Scott Sedar, aka The Man with the Golden Voice, reads from Fleming’s most popular works.