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American History Programs

Baltimore's Maritime Heritage

Spend the Columbus Day holiday with maritime historian, author, and archaeologist Donald Grady Shomette and regional historian Hayden Mathews investigating Baltimore's prominent role in the seafaring history of America and the ships, shipbuilders, mariners, explorations, and conflicts that helped build a nation.

Date of event
Monday, October 14, 2019 - 8:15 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Flashback: The Sixties, How the Decade Shaped American Politics Today

Though now half a century in the past, the turbulent 1960s continues to reverberate in our society, culture, and institutions. Leonard Steinhorn of American University explores the decade’s meaning and its legacy—which may well be the widening dividing line in our contemporary politics.

Date of event
Tuesday, October 15, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

American Whiskey Reborn: Bourbon and Rye, Kentucky Style

In recent years, the longtime popularity of bourbon and rye had been on the decline, but these venerable all-American drinks have made a spirited comeback. Learn how—and about the traditions and tastes behind them—from Andrea Wilson, executive vice president of Michter's Distillery in Louisville, and Lew Bryson, author of Tasting Whiskey. Cheers!

Date of event
Thursday, October 17, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Thinking Like an Historian: A Practical Guide

How do professional historians work? In a unique workshop, Christopher Hamner, an associate professor of American history at George Mason University, demystifies this process by guiding you in how to think about and interpret the past.

Date of event
Saturday, October 19, 2019 - 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Adventures on the C&O Canal

Explore the man-made wonders of the C&O Canal, as well as natural beauty of spring along the Potomac River, guided by writer and local historian Garrett Peck. Highlights include the Monocacy Aqueduct, the canal town of Williamsport, the Paw Paw Tunnel, and an overnight stay in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, site of America’s first spa.

Date of event
Depart: Sunday, October 20, 2019 - 8:30 a.m.
Return: Monday, October 21, 2019 - 6:30 p.m.

The Clipper Ships: Sailing Ships That Ruled the Trade Routes

In the early 19th century, fortunes were made and lost importing luxury goods from China to the American marketplace, a trade hampered by the time it took for the ocean journey. Historian Steven Ujifusa tells the colorful story of a handful of cutthroat competitors who raced to create the fastest clipper ships to carry their cargo to American shores—and transformed the design and technology of shipbuilding in the process.

Date of event
Wednesday, October 23, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Café Society: Where New York's Brightest Made the Scene

From Prohibition through the 1950s, the Stork Club, 21 Club, El Morocco, and other swank nightspots and eateries were the center of a glittering new kind of social scene. Participants sip a selection of famous cocktails from that era as cocktail historian Philip Greene takes a spirited look at the glamour of these legendary venues.

Date of event
Monday, November 4, 2019 - 6:30 p.m.

The Reverse Underground Railroad: Slavery and Kidnapping in Pre-Civil War America

In the decades before the Civil War a clandestine network of human traffickers and slave traders stole away thousands of free African Americans from the northern states in order to sell them into slavery in the Deep South. In an absorbing evening, historian Richard Bell examines the prevalence of this heinous practice, the routes the kidnappers took, and the techniques they used to lure free black people.

Date of event
Wednesday, November 6, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Vicksburg: The Campaign That Broke the Confederacy

Although Gettysburg is often cited as the Civil War’s most important battle, it was the fall of Vicksburg that sealed the fate of the Confederacy. Historian Donald L. Miller tells the astonishing story of the longest and most decisive military campaign of the Civil War.

Date of event
Thursday, November 7, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

The Civil War in Arlington County

Once a rural Virginia area full of farms and orchards, Arlington County’s proximity to the Union’s capital drew it into the conflicts of the Civil War. Join historian Dakota Springston to survey locations including the sites of Union forts, a Confederate outpost, Matthew Brady’s photographic studio, and a Reconstruction-era Freedmen’s Village.

Date of event
Saturday, November 9, 2019 - 10:15 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

DC Museums Salute the Suffragists: Tracing the Path to the Voting Booth

With the impending centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment, several Washington museums are spotlighting the decades-long struggle for women’s suffrage in special exhibitions. Join tour guide Kathleen Bashian to view them and explore how the movement’s leaders and activists—as well as ordinary women—achieved that goal.

Date of event
Wednesday, November 13, 2019 - 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Orville Wright's Redemption: The Story Behind the First Military Airplane

Aviation writer and filmmaker Paul Glenshaw screens rare reconstructed film footage from 1909 as he traces how the Wright Brothers persuaded the U.S. Army that the future of combat was airborne. That story also reflects a pivotal confluence of emerging technologies that would shape much of the 20th century: the airplane and the motion picture.

Date of event
Wednesday, November 13, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Delayed Justice: The Hunt for Hitler's Hidden Soldiers in America

Hitler's dreaded SS trained a roving army to help annihilate the Jewish population of occupied Poland. Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Debbie Cenziper unfolds the harrowing wartime journeys of two Jewish orphans who settled in the United States—only to learn that some of their one-time captors had as well.

Date of event
Thursday, December 5, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Researching Your Genealogy: A Journey of Self-Discovery

Every family has stories about their roots, but are they true? Professional genealogist John Colletta offers a day filled with practical information and time-saving advice to start the adventure of discovering your personal history.

Date of event
Saturday, December 7, 2019 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Classical Music and American Foreign Relations: A Complicated Duet

Jonathan Rosenberg of Hunter College delves into the singular and complex relationship of classical music and political ideology in 20th-century America. He examines how in the decades that spanned two world wars and the Cold War, classical musicians, singers, composers, and conductors could find themselves celebrated as cultural ambassadors or ostracized for their nationality or political beliefs.

Date of event
Tuesday, December 10, 2019 - 12:00 p.m.

The Gilded Steinway: Music in Theodore Roosevelt's White House

The musical life of the White House during Theodore Roosevelt's administration was rich and diverse, and some of the era's most noted pianists performed on a one-of-a-kind instrument in the East Room: an elaborately decorated and gilded Steinway piano. In a program at Decatur House, musicologist Elise Kirk offers an overview of Roosevelt-era music, highlighted by a performance on a replica of the original piano.

Date of event
Thursday, December 12, 2019 - 6:30 p.m.

Barack and Joe: The Making of a Presidential Friendship

Though Joe Biden and Barack Obama were a study in sharply contrasting styles, they formed a dynamic professional partnership and close personal connection. Author Steve Levingston explores the evolution of the relationship that set the tone for eight years in the White House.

Date of event
Thursday, December 12, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Old Town Alexandria: A Holiday Staycation

Treat yourself to a holiday-season overnight getaway that offers the perfect way to experience the heart of Old Town Alexandria’s heritage and charm: colonial architecture, museums, fine dining, the waterfront, and of course, a little shopping.

Date of event
Starts: Sunday, December 15, 2019 - 11:00 a.m.
Ends: Monday, December 16, 2019 - 4:00 p.m.

Holiday Magic at the White House: The Brightest Season at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Spend an afternoon with professional decorator and author Coleen Christian Burke as she covers the traditions of White House holiday decorating, brings you behind the scenes as the seasonal transformation takes place, and shares how modern first ladies from Jacqueline Kennedy to Melania Trump have lent their distinctive styles and creativity to guiding the seasonal themes.

Date of event
Sunday, December 15, 2019 - 2:00 p.m.