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Lectures

Author Geraldine Brooks examines the enduring appeal of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel and its roots in the author’s life. Brooks, who drew on the Civil War-era experiences of the family’s head, Bronson Alcott, in her Pulitzer Prize–winning novel March, explores how Alcott’s radical parents and their progressive intellectual milieu shaped the woman, and the writer, she became.

Event date
Tuesday, April 23, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Late 18th-century England is the backdrop for the British series “Poldark” on PBS. Ross Poldark is the dashing hero caught up in the social, political, and economic changes swirling around him. Find out what the series, set in rugged Cornwall, gets right about the period.

Event date
Wednesday, April 24, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Southern Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs are a vivid remnant of the Chesapeake Bay’s prehistoric past. Stephen Godfrey, a Smithsonian research associate and curator of paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum, traces the fascinating history of the cliffs, discusses the amazing diversity of fossils that they preserve, and the picture they present of the Mid-Atlantic environment during the Miocene epoch.

Event date
Wednesday, April 24, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Pull up a chair as food writer Elizabeth Minchilli and cookbook author Domenica Marchetti serve up a lively discussion about what goes into an Italian meal. They consider the country’s many food-focused traditions, as well as the way they are celebrated every day at the table. 

Event date
Thursday, April 25, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

In a one-day workshop at Pizza University, chef Felice Colucci guides you through the steps and secrets of making Neapolitan-style pizza from scratch. Graduate with tips on making the pie at home.

Event date
Friday, April 26, 2019 - 6:00 p.m.

In a one-day workshop at Pizza University, chef Felice Colucci guides you through the steps and secrets of making Neapolitan-style pizza from scratch. Graduate with tips on making the pie at home.

Event date
Saturday, April 27, 2019 - 1:00 p.m.

Thomas Jefferson was among the most notable aficionados of Madeira, the fortified Portuguese wine that at one time was the most popular potable throughout the British Empire. At his namesake hotel in downtown Washington, learn about the Founding Father’s connection to the drink, and enjoy a guided tasting of fine Madeiras.

Event date
Saturday, April 27, 2019 - 1:00 p.m.

The show that proved that being a puppet is no barrier to being a Broadway star marks the end of its more than 6,000 New York performances in May. Before the final curtain falls, join two of Avenue Q’s non-puppet original cast members, Rick Lyon and Jennifer Barnhart for some behind-the-scenes insights on the development, history, and impact of the Tony-winning musical, and its groundbreaking use of puppetry on stage.

Event date
Saturday, April 27, 2019 - 7:00 p.m.

Animal behavior expert Frans de Waal’s fascinating explorations into the social and emotional lives of primates have revealed that humans are not the only species with the capacity for love, hate, fear, shame, joy, or generosity. Drawing on his newest book, Mama’s Last Hug, he examines the remarkable emotional continuity between our species and others.

Event date
Monday, April 29, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

The sprawling Central Intelligence Agency has thousands of eyes and ears, but only one client: the president of the United States. The CIA’s chief historian David Robarge discusses the agency’s changing role throughout administrations, and how presidents’ experience with intelligence and their foreign policy agendas have affected that relationship.

Event date
Tuesday, April 30, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

In a special evening, directors Joe Russo and Anthony Russo discuss their experience of back-to-back filming of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame and challenges of transporting the adventures of the iconic super-heroes from comic book page to the screen.

Event date
Tuesday, April 30, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Drawing on his new memoir, the executive chef of Kith and Kin shares the remarkable story of his culinary coming-of-age: one about the intersection of food, fame, and race.

Event date
Wednesday, May 1, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Rocky Ruggiero, a specialist in the Early Renaissance, investigates the question that architectural historians are still trying to answer: How was Brunelleschi able to build his great cathedral dome when 14th-century technology should not have permitted its realization? He examines the epic story of the design and construction of one of the greatest engineering marvels in history and the innovations that made it possible. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)

Event date
Thursday, May 2, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Evolving discoveries in biology point to the promise of cancer-detecting nanoparticles, mind-reading bionic limbs, and computer-engineered crops. Neuroscientist Susan Hockfield, former president of MIT, surveys how the intersection of bioengineering and technology may hold solutions for addressing some of the greatest humanitarian, medical, and environmental challenges of our time.

Event date
Monday, May 6, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Mark W. Moffett, a biologist and Smithsonian research associate in entomology, examines findings in psychology, sociology, and anthropology that explain the social adaptations that bind members of societies, and explores how the tension between identity and anonymity defines how those groups work—and sometimes don’t.

Event date
Wednesday, May 8, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

His early political career was notable for his embrace of plans to build a better world. But then things changed. Biographer John Farrell examines Richard Nixon’s personal and political journey from naval lieutenant to disgraced president.

Event date
Wednesday, May 8, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

From their first performance of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964 to “Let It Be” on their final album in 1970, the songs of the Beatles defined and shaped an explosive era in musical and cultural history. Join musical raconteur Robert Wyatt on a “magical mystery tour” of the life and works of the group whose influence still echoes in pop music—and our lives.

Event date
Thursday, May 9, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Can Stoicism’s guiding emphasis on emotional moderation and the importance of moral choices provide us with some guideposts for navigating today’s world? Classicist James Romm examines the philosophy transmitted by Seneca the Younger with an eye to whether we can benefit from borrowing his Stoic outlook.

Event date
Friday, May 10, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

A path that Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed all walked finds a new incarnation in the 400-mile Jordan Trail. Explorer Andrew Evans, one of the first Americans to hike its complete length, narrates the experience of his 40-day journey, showcasing his encounters with the nature, people, history, and culture of Jordan.

Event date
Monday, May 13, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Food historian Robyn Metcalfe explores an often-overlooked aspect of the global food system: how food moves from producer to consumer. She finds that the food supply chain is adapting to our increasingly complex demands for both personalization and convenience. But the future, she says, may bring changes to how we think about our food and our relationship to it.

Event date
Monday, May 13, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

From investment portfolios to trade wars, Hollywood movies to holiday travels, the influence of Asia on our lives—and the world’s economy—continues to grow. Shanghai-based global strategy advisor Parag Khanna examines why the Asian Century is a phenomenon far larger than we thought, and why there’s no more important region for us to better understand now.

Event date
Tuesday, May 14, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Considered by some to be the “First Brexit,” the 16th-century break with Rome and Catholic Europe would forever change England’s religion, culture, communication, and place in the world. Tudor and Renaissance scholar Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger examines how the Reformation transformed England into a maritime nation, a global power, and the center of a new empire.

Event date
Wednesday, May 15, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Drawing on her new book, The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created, Jane Leavy discusses the Bambino’s journey from Baltimore to the big leagues to the center of the nation’s adulation. In conversation with local sports attorney Phil Hochberg, she goes behind the mythology to uncover the man whose approach to the game and to life was always to hit it with all you’ve got.

Event date
Monday, May 20, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Madhur Jaffrey introduced us to her homeland’s unique cuisine. Now, the cookbook author is back with a new recipes that might reshape the way you think about, and cook, Indian food.

Event date
Monday, May 20, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Jewish comedy is serious business. It can be traced back to biblical times—and to a people who used humor to deal with an uncaring universe. Jeremy Dauber traces the genre’s origins and evolution and shows how it has mirrored, and sometimes even shaped, the course of Jewish history.

Event date
Tuesday, May 21, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Energy executive Daniel Poneman, senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and a former deputy secretary of the Department of Energy and member of the National Security Council, argues that a new approach to global energy policy can enhance the ability of nuclear power to combat climate change even as we reduce the risks of nuclear terror.

Event date
Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

To mark the 60th anniversary of the revolution, Smithsonian magazine writer Tony Perrottet draws on his new book ¡Cuba Libre!: Che, Fidel, and the Improbable Revolution That Changed World History to offer a look at some of the lesser-known human drama that played out against the backdrop of political upheaval.

Event date
Monday, June 3, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Finding the reason behind the disappearance of more than 100 inhabitants of the Roanoke colony has obsessed generations of historians, archaeologists, and amateur sleuths for more than 400 years. Journalist Andrew Lawler draws on his book The Secret Token to dive into the still-unanswered questions about the fate of the colonists, and examine why fascination with Roanoke’s story only continues to grow.

Event date
Tuesday, June 4, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Though its heroine called the Kansas prairie home, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz created perhaps the most beloved and enduring imaginary locale in children’s literature. Author Daniel Stashower and actor Scott Sedar strike off on a celebratory journey through L. Frank Baum’s life, works, and legacy.

Event date
Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Do Spider-Man’s existential doubts revolve around opportunity costs? Economist Brian O’Roark examines a powerful (if unlikely) alliance between the worlds of the comics and economics and why, despite their amazing powers, superheroes are still beholden to its laws.

Event date
Thursday, June 6, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Photojournalist and former official White House staff photographer Lawrence Jackson shares his approach to creating images that tell compelling stories, and offers a rare inside look at what it’s like to document daily life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Event date
Sunday, June 9, 2019 - 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

As the famed training school’s 50th anniversary approaches, founder Dan Pedersen offers a first-hand account of the program, tells the inside story of its development during the Vietnam War, and examines how its training provided American flyers with the know-how to dominate air combat from Miramar to Area 51.

Event date
Monday, June 10, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Join three curators from the Air and Space Museum—currently in the midst of a top-to-bottom renovation of its exhibition spaces—for a look at what the changes hold for future visitors, including plans for a new suite of galleries devoted to the solar system.

Event date
Tuesday, June 11, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Classical historian Barry Strauss surveys the Roman Empire across the 300-year reign of the Caesars, and examines how the period can offer lessons—both positive and cautionary—to the modern world.

Event date
Wednesday, June 12, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Many of California’s winemakers and produce growers have become leaders in bringing new agricultural approaches to their farms and vineyards. Drawing on her book, Wine Country Table, food writer Janet Fletcher leads a virtual road trip that shares images and stories from her visits to locations that represent the future of responsible farming and winegrowing—and offers recipes and tips to take advantage of California’s year-round cornucopia.

Event date
Thursday, June 13, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Join acclaimed herpetologist Romulus Whitaker for a fascinating discussion about his work on snakebite mitigation, India’s iconic snakes, and his ongoing efforts to preserve reptile habitats. Little wonder a species of Indian boa, Eryx whitakeri, was named in his honor.

Event date
Sunday, June 16, 2019 - 2:00 p.m.

Historian John Ragosta examines whether Thomas Jefferson’s insistence on separation of church on state was essential to the early development of American religious freedom or if the concept, as critics claim, is a mid-20th century phenomenon.

Event date
Monday, June 17, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

The latest developments in imagining technology are uncovering centuries-old secrets hidden in fire- and water-damaged manuscripts, drawings, old books, and ephemera. Michael B. Toth, a specialist in the field, discusses recent projects, including ones that that provided insights into Shakespeare’s first folios and revelations about Ben Franklin found beneath an ink spill.

Event date
Tuesday, June 18, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

From the 17th through 19th centuries, Prussia and its capital Berlin came to dominate the political, intellectual, and cultural life of what eventually became the unified German state. Cultural historian Ursula Rehn Wolfman traces this fascinating historical evolution through the expression of Prussian influence in Berlin’s architecture and extraordinary museum collections, as well as in its role as a center for learning. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)

Event date
Monday, June 24, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

During six seasons on AMC, Walter White, the antihero of “Breaking Bad” practiced a lot of ad-hoc chemistry. But how much of it was actually scientific? Join the show’s science advisor, chemistry professor Donna Nelson, and scientist Marius Stan, who appeared as an actor, to learn how the series mixed fictional storylines with professionally accurate facts.

Event date
Tuesday, June 25, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

Historian Richard Bell reconstructs the fascinating history of America’s Declaration of Independence, covering its origins, purpose, impact, and its extraordinary influence on more than 100 similar declarations in countries around the world.

Event date
Wednesday, June 26, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.

To mark the anniversary of the landmark HBO series, Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz, television critics of New Jersey’s Star-Ledger—Tony Soprano’s hometown newspaper—discuss the show’s artistry, themes, and legacy, as well as its deep connections to other film and TV classics.

Event date
Wednesday, June 26, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.