Skip to main content
Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

American History Programs

Tour

Shakespeare in Staunton

Saturday, October 8, 2022 - 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET

Experience one of the Bard’s plays in a way that Londoners of 400 years ago might have found when you spend a day at the American Shakespeare Center in beautiful Staunton, Virginia. Explore theatrical history in a fascinating director-led workshop, enjoy lunch in local restaurant, and then settle into the Elizabethan-style theater for a performance of The Tempest. Afterward, there’s time to explore historic Staunton on an optional guided tour.

Tour

George Washington's Places: Alexandria and South Fairfax County

Wednesday, October 12, 2022 - 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET

Join historian and writer Laura Macaluso for a day of adventure that travels from Old Town Alexandria along the George Washington Parkway to Mount Vernon and beyond. From an 18th-century tavern to a venerable church, a towering Masonic memorial to estates along the Potomac, the locations recall the life and legacy of George Washington as a general and president.

Lecture/Seminar

Art Crimes: Trailing Modern Treasure Hunters

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

Join expert on art fraud and former FBI agent Robert K. Wittman on his journey around the world as the senior investigator and founder of the FBI National Art Crime Team. He recounts assignments worthy of a spy novel that nabbed the tomb robbers, thieves, looters, and criminals who are the financial engine of the multi-billion-dollar international industry in illicit artifacts.

Lecture/Seminar

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.

Lecture/Seminar

World War II and the Rise of American Intelligence

Thursday, October 13, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET

Author and long-time intelligence officer Nicholas Reynolds draws on his new book Need to Know to survey the full story of the birth of American intelligence in the 1940s, as well as the larger-than-life leaders and spies who would shape espionage during wartime and beyond.

Tour

Monuments and Memory

Friday, October 14, 2022 - 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. ET

Join staff members of the new Capital Jewish Museum on a walking tour that explores the connection between Washington’s monuments and collective memory. Beginning at the museum, move through the heart of the historic downtown Jewish community to visit monuments and memorials connected to local and international Jewish history.

Tour

The Rise of DC’s Black Intelligentsia: Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Dunbar-Nelson in LeDroit Park

Saturday, October 15, 2022 - 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. ET

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Northwest Washington’s LeDroit Park neighborhood became home to the city’s most prominent African American residents. Join author and literary historian Kim Roberts on a walking tour that visits the homes of Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first African American to gain national eminence as a poet, and his wife, poet and activist Alice Dunbar-Nelson, as well those of other members of the city’s African American intelligentsia who were drawn to LeDroit Park and the surrounding Shaw neighborhood.

Tour

The Potomac Eagle: A Rail Ride Through the Trough

Sunday, October 16, 2022 - 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. ET

Spend a day with Joe Nevin in the Shenandoah and South Branch valleys that focuses on regional and railroad history and offers some spectacular Appalachian scenery as well. The centerpiece is a 3-hour excursion on the diesel-powered Potomac Eagle, the perfect vantage point from which to take in the wild, wooded gorge locally known as the Trough.

Tour

The Rise of DC’s Black Intelligentsia: Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Dunbar-Nelson in LeDroit Park

Sunday, October 16, 2022 - 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. ET

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Northwest Washington’s LeDroit Park neighborhood became home to the city’s most prominent African American residents. Join author and literary historian Kim Roberts on a walking tour that visits the homes of Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first African American to gain national eminence as a poet, and his wife, poet and activist Alice Dunbar-Nelson, as well those of other members of the city’s African American intelligentsia who were drawn to LeDroit Park and the surrounding Shaw neighborhood.

Tour

Gold-Rush California

October 16 - 21, 2022, 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 a.m. ET

A sparkle of gold flashed in a river near Coloma, California, touching off a massive wave of gold seekers to California. The Gold Rush of 1849 forever altered California and the nation’s destiny. Join fellow travelers on a 6-day tour around Northern California to see where the adventure unfolded. Highlights include Old Sacramento, the California State Railroad Museum, Sutter's Fort, Chaw'se Indian Grinding Rock and Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Parks, a 2-night stay at the Historic National Exchange Hotel, Empire Mine & Malakoff Diggins State Parks, and scenic Lake Tahoe. 

Lecture/Seminar

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.

Lecture/Seminar

Zingerman's Deli Turns 40

Tuesday, October 18, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET

The iconic Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan, opened in 1982 as a traditional Jewish deli and food shop that sold great stacked sandwiches and delicious baked goods. Less known is its role in building new food-business opportunities for others in the area. Co-founder Ari Weinzweig joins Christopher W. Wilson, director of experience design at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, to discuss Zingerman’s story and unique approach to management and leadership.

Lecture/Seminar

The Stories Behind English Spelling: An Awesome Mess

Thursday, October 20, 2022 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET

What’s behind the spelling of colonel? Or knight? Why is it four but also forty? Linguist Anne Curzan discusses why an examination of the ever-evolving language whose spelling has been described as “an awesome mess” reveals a treasure trove of wild and wonderful stories about its history and the people who have spoken it (and grappled with its quirks) across the centuries.

Tour

Monuments and Memory

Saturday, October 22, 2022 - 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. ET

Join staff members of the new Capital Jewish Museum on a walking tour that explores the connection between Washington’s monuments and collective memory. Beginning at the museum, move through the heart of the historic downtown Jewish community to visit monuments and memorials connected to local and international Jewish history.

Tour

The Rise of DC’s Black Intelligentsia: Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Dunbar-Nelson in LeDroit Park

Saturday, October 22, 2022 - 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. ET

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Northwest Washington’s LeDroit Park neighborhood became home to the city’s most prominent African American residents. Join author and literary historian Kim Roberts on a walking tour that visits the homes of Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first African American to gain national eminence as a poet, and his wife, poet and activist Alice Dunbar-Nelson, as well those of other members of the city’s African American intelligentsia who were drawn to LeDroit Park and the surrounding Shaw neighborhood.

Tour

Monuments and Memory

Sunday, October 23, 2022 - 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. ET

Join staff members of the new Capital Jewish Museum on a walking tour that explores the connection between Washington’s monuments and collective memory. Beginning at the museum, move through the heart of the historic downtown Jewish community to visit monuments and memorials connected to local and international Jewish history.

Lecture/Seminar

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.

Lecture/Seminar

The Acadian Diaspora

Thursday, October 27, 2022 - 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET

Late in 1755, an army of British regulars and Massachusetts volunteers launched one of the most ambitious and cruel military campaigns in North American history: the capture and exile of Nova Scotia’s French-speaking Catholic settlers known as Acadians. Historian Christopher Hodson of Brigham Young University explores the Acadian diaspora, interweaving the dramatic stories of its perpetrators and survivors with the wider history of 18th-century imperial conflict. 

Lecture/Seminar

Dining on the Rails: A Moveable Feast

Friday, October 28, 2022 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET

Hungry railroad passengers prior to the Civil War had meager choices for meals. But once George Pullman’s dining cars came on the scene in the late 19th century, a bountiful new era of service began that often rivaled fine restaurants and hotel dining rooms. Railroad historian Joe Nevin traces the colorful evolution of dining on the rails between the beginning of commercial service in 1830 and the advent of Amtrak using examples from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, an Eastern pioneer of onboard services.

Lecture/Seminar

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.

Lecture/Seminar

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America

Wednesday, November 2, 2022 - 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. ET

In-Person and Online Program: French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America, his seminal assessment of both the American experiment and the future of democracy after a visit to this country in 1831. Georgetown professor and political theorist Joseph Hartman considers the way in which Tocqueville thought through democracy and its problems and what Tocqueville means for us today.

Lecture/Seminar

The 1920s: Welcome to the New World

Wednesday, November 2, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. ET

In-Person and Online Program: In the 1920s, a decade of economic prosperity and cultural dynamism, Americans were dancing faster, driving faster, and living faster. Lecturer Stef Woods explores the explosion of new directions the period brought, from the jazz craze to the writers of the Lost Generation to Prohibition. She also considers what comparisons might be drawn between that still-resonant era and today’s ’20s.

Tour

The Road to Nashville

November 6 - 10, 2022, 8:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET

Nashville is a 21st-century boom town, a cultural melting pot that attracts residents from across the nation and around the world. If the Ken Burns documentary Country Music sparked your appetite to learn more about the form’s roots and influences, this 5-day  tour offers the perfect way to do it.

Course

The History and Future of the Shopping Mall

Tuesday, November 8, 2022 - 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET

Consumers flocked to modern shopping malls when they were introduced soon after World War II and this new way of shopping came to quickly dominate the retail scene. In later years, though, the mall’s demise was equally as rapid and dramatic. In a two-part series, Bill Keene, a lecturer on architecture and urban studies, looks at the social and economic reasons that drew us to the mall, why we left, and what its future might hold.

Lecture/Seminar

A Native History of the American Revolution

Wednesday, November 9, 2022 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET

The American Revolution was one in which Natives fought and died in great numbers and permanently reshaped the balance of power between Europeans and Native Americans on this continent. Historian Richard Bell surveys the Revolutionary War in Native America, with a focus on Molly Brant, an Iroquois woman who emerged as the long, bitter period’s most important military and cultural broker.

Lecture/Seminar

The Legacy of the Gettysburg Address

Thursday, November 10, 2022 - 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET

While Lincoln’s delivery of the Gettysburg Address lasted scarcely two minutes, it had a lasting impact on world history and his enduring legacy as people through the ages have looked to his words for inspiration. During this centennial year of the Lincoln Memorial, author and journalist Chuck Raasch explores the history of this iconic address that surprised onlookers and was ridiculed by the press—yet remains one of the greatest speeches ever given.

Lecture/Seminar

Bison: Portrait of an Icon

Monday, November 14, 2022 - 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET

Writer Audrey Hall and photographer Chase Reynolds Ewald have been following in the hoofprints of the American bison since their first childhood visits to Yellowstone National Park. They draw on their book, Bison: Portrait of an Icon, to tell the story of the species, highlighting its history, cultural significance, near decimation and remarkable comeback, and share some surprising tidbits about these all-American beasts.

Lecture/Seminar

The Future of the Constitution

Tuesday, November 15, 2022 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET

Is an 18th-century document still the right blueprint for the most powerful country in the world at a time of breathtaking social and technological change? Humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson surveys the changing place of the Constitution in U.S. history and considers the proposals for constitutional change that are getting increased attention as America moves into greater and greater paralysis.

Lecture/Seminar

The Civil War in the Desert Southwest

Wednesday, November 30, 2022 - 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET

Drawing on material from her book The Three-Cornered War  (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2021), Megan Kate Nelson examines why and how the desert Southwest—New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California—became an important site of conflict among U.S. soldiers, Confederate Texans, and Indigenous peoples during the American Civil War.

Lecture/Seminar

Healing a Divided Nation: How the American Civil War Revolutionized Western Medicine

Wednesday, November 30, 2022 - 7:00 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET

Unprecedented strides were made in the science of medicine during the Civil War, laying the foundations for the system we know today. Drawing on her book Healing a Divided Nation, author and documentary filmmaker Carole Adrienne tracks this remarkable transformation in its cultural and historical context, illustrating how the rapid advancements made in these four years reverberated throughout the western world for years to come.

Lecture/Seminar

Along the C&O Canal

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

The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal covers over 20,000 acres along the Potomac and is one of the nation’s most diverse national parks in terms of both natural species and historical significance. Aidan Barnes of the C&O Canal Trust surveys its colorful history, near demise and rescue, and its emergence as a true national treasure.

Tour

The Holidays in Old Town Alexandria

Sunday, December 4, 2022 - 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. ET

Step back in time as you stroll along Old Town Alexandria’s red-brick sidewalks to explore how Christmases of yesteryear were celebrated here. The rich history shared by guide Lynn O’Connell covers the people, places, and traditions that make Old Town a picture-perfect spot during the holiday season.

Lecture/Seminar

An American Ambassador in Prewar Japan: The Countdown to Pearl Harbor

Monday, December 5, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET

As America’s ambassador to Japan in the decade that led up to WWII, Joseph C. Grew’s prescient warnings to American leaders about the risks of Japan’s raging nationalism and ambitious militarism were often disregarded in Washington. Author Steve Kemper examines Grew’s tenure in Japan, offering a backstage glimpse at these explosive years from vantage points including the Imperial Palace, the Japanese cabinet, and Grew’s own perspective from the American embassy in Tokyo.

Lecture/Seminar

Yuletide in Dixie: Slavery, Christmas, and Southern Memory

Tuesday, December 6, 2022 - 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET

The conventional wisdom that Christmas provided enslaved African Americans in the Civil War era with a respite from labor and punishment is wrong, says historian Robert E. May. He examines how slavery’s most punitive features persisted at holiday time and how false assumptions about slave Christmases later became harnessed to cultural myths that undergirded white supremacy in the United States.

Tour

The Holidays in Old Town Alexandria

Friday, December 9, 2022 - 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. ET

Step back in time as you stroll along Old Town Alexandria’s red-brick sidewalks to explore how Christmases of yesteryear were celebrated here. The rich history shared by guide Lynn O’Connell covers the people, places, and traditions that make Old Town a picture-perfect spot during the holiday season.

Tour

Holidays at Winterthur and Longwood Gardens: Featuring Jacqueline Kennedy and H. F. du Pont: From Winterthur to the White House

Sunday, December 11, 2022 - 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. ET

Kick off your holidays in grand style with a day spent visiting two special destinations. Begin at Winterthur to view the opulent holiday décor and take in the exhibition Jacqueline Kennedy and H. F. du Pont: From Winterthur to the White House. An evening visit to nearby Longwood Gardens offers time on your own to relax, wander the grounds, and take in the spectacular seasonal decorations.

Lecture/Seminar

Decking the Halls at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Sunday, December 11, 2022 - 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET

Author and historian Coleen Christian Burke, a 2014 White House design partner, leads a journey through Christmas history as she reveals how the annual decorating themes developed by first ladies are turned into sparkling realities. She also discusses how the holiday White House functions as both a private home and public space and offers views of some of the most memorable seasonal settings created at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Lecture/Seminar

Los Angeles: Portrait of a Mature Metropolis

Wednesday, December 14, 2022 - 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET

In the decades following World War II, a myriad of factors shaped modern Los Angeles, including the growth of industry, the evolution of the entertainment business, and the city’s transformation into the home of notable cultural and educational institutions. Bill Keene, a lecturer in history, urban studies, and architecture, examines the social and economic forces that made Los Angeles the powerhouse it is today.

Lecture/Seminar

How Weather Has Shaped Human History

Thursday, December 15, 2022 - 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET

Dramatic weather might seem to be a new phenomenon, but weather and climate change have been shaping human history for thousands of years. Historian Caroline Winterer examines a series of weather-driven turning points that were strong enough to force migration, end wars, and create famines—and how the aftermath of past climate change might affect our future.

Tour

The Holidays in Old Town Alexandria

Saturday, December 17, 2022 - 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. ET

Step back in time as you stroll along Old Town Alexandria’s red-brick sidewalks to explore how Christmases of yesteryear were celebrated here. The rich history shared by guide Lynn O’Connell covers the people, places, and traditions that make Old Town a picture-perfect spot during the holiday season.

Lecture/Seminar

From Carson to Oprah to Stephen Colbert: A History of the TV Talk Show

Thursday, January 5, 2023 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. ET

From its start in the early 1950s, the talk show has been one of television’s most versatile and durable formats. Media expert Brian Rose surveys its changing appeal from decade to decade and examines how the talk show—and its hosts—continue to provide viewers with a lively mix of entertainment, information, and compelling conversation.

Lecture/Seminar

Adam Smith's America

Thursday, January 19, 2023 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET

Originally published in 1776, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations was lauded by America’s founders as a landmark work of Enlightenment thinking about national wealth, statecraft, and moral virtue. Harvard University lecturer and author Glory Liu traces how generations of Americans have read, reinterpreted, and weaponized Smith’s ideas over time.