Lectures & Seminars



Programs listed below are in chronological order.

Brandy: In the Winter Spirit

Monday, December 12, 2016 at 6:45 p.m.

Join Scott Harris, the distiller behind Catoctin Creek’s 1757 Brandy from Loudoun County, for a lively evening as he surveys brandies from around the world, offers expert tips for enjoying the venerable spirit, and shares some of his favorite bottles.

Architectural Splendors: Fifth Avenue Palaces and Long Island Retreats

Tuesday, December 13, 2016 at 6:45 p.m.

Architect, author, and historian Gary Lawrance offers a look at these now-vanished wonders of residential architecture, their breathtaking interiors, the people who built them, and the changing face of New York City and Long Island from 1870 to 1930. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1/2 credit)

A Once and Future Earth?: Exploring Titan, Saturn’s Giant Moon

Monday, December 19, 2016 at 6:45 p.m.

One of the most Earth-like worlds found to date, the frozen “prebiotic” moon Titan offers a glimpse of what our own planet might have been like before life evolved—and whether similar life might be found elsewhere. Ralph Lorenz of Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics lab examines how Titan is being explored in space missions and in the laboratory.

How Fat Works: The Inside Story

Thursday, January 5, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

Fat plagues us. As a nation, we spend $60 billion annually fighting it. Drawing on her new book, The Secret Life of Fat, biochemist Sylvia Tara offers a scientist’s perspective on how to gain the upper hand in controlling our weight.

Temples, Monuments, and Tombs: Exploring Egypt’s Ancient Treasures

Saturday, January 7, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.

Egyptologist Bob Brier examines Egypt's spectacular historic sites from the Giza Plateau to the Philae Temple—some of which still hold their secrets after thousands of years. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1 credit)

Spies Among Us: Codebreaking, Espionage, and Counterintelligence in Arlington

Tuesday, January 10, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

Arlington, that across-the-Potomac center of booming neighborhoods, restaurants galore, and enviable real estate, has long held a secret distinction: It’s a hotbed of spies. Rendezvous with David Robarge, the CIA’s chief historian, as he exposes the dark side of suburban Virginia.

Designed to Impress: Residential Interiors and Landscapes of the Gilded Age

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

Heidi Nasstrom of the Smithsonian’s MA program in the History of Decorative Arts
highlights the design of opulent houses and gardens in New York, Newport, and the Hamptons that served as highly public statements of their owners’ wealth and status.

City of Sedition: New York During the Civil War

Thursday, January 12, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

Civil War-era New York was a place of patriots, war heroes, and abolitionists, and simultaneously one of antiwar protest, draft resistance, and defiance. Author John Strausbaugh  reveals how New Yorkers of all kinds seized the opportunities the conflict presented to amass capital, create new industries, and lay the foundation for the city's—and the nation's—growth.

Changing Ideals of Physical Beauty in Art: The Mystique of the Chic Physique

Saturday, January 14, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.

From prehistoric times onward, art has reflected, chronicled, and shaped constantly changing standards of what we consider beautiful in the human form. Art historian Janetta Rebold Benton traces what these depiction of men and women—both clothed and not—reveal about the periods in which they were created. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1 credit)

Deceiving Hitler: The Ghost Army of WWII

Wednesday, January 18, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

Armed with rubber tanks, fake artillery, and more than a few artistic tricks up their sleeves, a handpicked group of young GIs (including future fashion designer Bill Blas and painter Ellsworth Kelly) created a traveling road show of deception on the battlefields of Europe, with the German Army as their audience. Author and documentary filmmaker Rick Beyer tells the story of the most curious and creative group of soldiers deployed in the western theater of war.

The Pulse on Modern Medicine: Insights from NIH Experts

Tuesday, January 24, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

In a five-part series, listen to National Institutes of Health directors and scientific and medical experts discuss what is currently “hot” in biomedical research—and what it all means for our health and medical treatment today and in the future. This session features Gary Gibbons, Director, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

A Partnership that’s Out of This World: Navigating Space Relations

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

The International Space Station (ISS) is one of the most ambitious international collaborations ever attempted. Cathy Lewis, curator of curator of international space programs and spacesuits at the Air and Space Museum, describes the multinational and bilateral agreements that led to its completion. She also highlights some of the cutting-edge scientific work being conducted on board the ISS.

Vodka Nation

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

Vodka is the toast of the town—and America’s favorite spirit. Victorino Matus, author of Vodka: How a Colorless, Odorless, Flavorless Spirit Conquered America, examines the national vodka phenomenon from its humble origins in the Depression-era Smirnoff plant through its transformation into a top-shelf status symbol.

Ask Tom Boswell Anything: He’s Got All the Sports Answers

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell has all the answers when it comes to Washington-area sports. Pose your questions in a lively session in which he gets an assist from veteran sportscaster and attorney Phil Hochberg.

Brothers at Arms: A Revolutionary Look at American History

Thursday, January 26, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

The story of the American Revolution gets a remarkable retelling by historian Larrie D. Ferreiro who places the struggle—and its ultimate success—in the context of the global strategic interests of France and Spain in their fight against Great Britain.

Kyoto: Japan’s Cultural Capital

Saturday, January 28, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.

Kyoto has long been one of Japan’s most innovative centers of arts and culture. Art historian Yui Suzuki of the University of Maryland, College Park, guides a day devoted to Kyoto’s artistic, architectural, and cultural treasures and the timeless creative spirit that gives this tradition-rich city its vibrant character. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1 credit)

Mario Batali on Regional American Cooking

Saturday, January 28, 2017 at 3 p.m.

Mario Batali, best known for Italian cuisine, headed into new territory to prepare his latest cookbook: all corners of America. In a conversation with Joe Yonan, food and dining editor of the Washington Post, he discusses what the dishes served at state fairs, church socials, BBQ joints, and family dinners reveal about our food culture and traditions.

Dinner in Oz: A Taste of Australian Cuisine

Monday, January 30, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.

Forget about bloomin’ onions: Sample food that real Australians would recognize when you spend an evening at a private three-course dinner at Oz, the area’s first authentic Australian restaurant. Oz’s chef, Brad Feickert, and Dana Robertson of the Embassy of Australia introduce a fascinating cuisine that’s ripe for discovery.

Connie Britton: Actress as Advocate

Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

She’s created attention-getting characters on “Friday Night Lights” and “Nashville,” but Connie Britton plays an equally notable role as goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme. In a conversation with NPR’s Linda Holmes, she discusses her television experiences and her work as an advocate for poverty eradication and women’s empowerment.

Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration

Wednesday, February 1, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

Sean Kelley of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site in Philadelphia draws on content from a new exhibition to illustrate how a criminal justice system often hidden from the view of most Americans carries implications for our wider society—and how its direction might be changed from both the inside and out.

A Day at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum

Saturday, February 4, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.

What began in the late Renaissance with the collections of rare and manmade objects assembled by various members of the House of Habsburg evolved into Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. Art historian Aneta Georgievska-Shine considers the great museum’s evolution and some of the masterworks housed within it. (World Art History Certificate elective, 1 credit)

How We Eat: A Uniquely Human Dilemma

Saturday, February 4, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.

When our prehistoric ancestors began to transform the way they acquired food, hunting and gathering gave way to planting crops and animal domestication. More centralized systems of food production gradually led to the erosion of our ability to make informed decisions about how we eat. Learn how lessons from our prehistoric diets and foodways could have a positive impact on our health and the environment today.

The Physics of Everyday Life

Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

The keys to unveiling the mysteries of the natural universe may be as close as your kitchen. Physicist Helen Czerski explains how the most ordinary everyday objects and occurences—like popping corn, coffee stains, and fridge magnets—can provide a way to understand big-picture concepts such as gravity, gases, weather, time, and more.

In the Indian Kitchen

Thursday, February 9, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

Food writer Monica Bhide guides a deliciously informative tour of the wide range of India’s foods, covering classic dishes, lesser-known specialties, distinctive ingredients, and cooking styles. A buffet reception features dishes that reflect the regional variations and techniques discussed.

Researching Your Genealogy: A Journey of Self-Discovery

Saturday, February 11, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.

Every family has stories about their roots, but are they true? Equip yourself to find out as genealogist John Colletta provides practical information and time-saving advice to get you started on the adventure of discovering your personal history.

Science as Art: The Beauty of Botanical Illustration

Sunday, February 12, 2017 at 2 p.m.

In collaboration with Smithsonian Libraries’ Biological Heritage Library, Alice Tangerini, a scientific illustrator at the Natural History Museum, leads an afternoon focused on the fascinating mix of art and science behind the practice of botanical illustration.

The Song of Songs

Monday, February 13, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

With its lyrical and sensuous celebration of romance and yearning, the Song of Songs provides a contrast to other parts of the Bible. Tod Linafelt, a professor of biblical literature, provides a theological context for its vision of love.

True Tortillas: The Seeds of Mexico’s Culinary Heritage

Monday, February 13, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

A kernel of an idea can lead to something great. Learn how small farmers and growers in Mexico are finding a booming new market for their country’s heirloom corn varieties. A tasting follows the discussion.

Rethinking the Philistines

Wednesday, February 15, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

Do the Philistines deserve their notoriously bad historical reputation? Archeologist Daniel Master, co-director of the Leon Levy Expedition to the Philistine city of Ashkelon, reports on his team’s discovery and excavation of an ancient cemetery that offers scholars new insights into how the Philistines actually lived and died.

Reading Portraits: An Introduction to the Genre

Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

The painted face has seduced, intrigued, and engrossed us for centuries. Art historian Aneta Georgievska Shine examines the ways that seminal portraits in the Western tradition reflect the sensibilities of their artists and the social and cultural ideals of the period in which they are created. (World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit)

A Red-Carpet Night with Oscar

Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

Build up some buzz for awards night by joining film writer Noah Gittell for an evening that focuses on all things Oscar. The movie-inspired fun includes history and trivia, a predictions contest, and a chance to join some screen legends (the Madame Tussauds versions, that is) for photos on the red carpet.

How Did We Get This Far? The Future of Humankind, Considered

Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

Best-selling author and historian Yuval Noah Harari looks back at the course of history, and, drawing on his new book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, explores the human agenda informing the 21st century—from overcoming death to creating artificial life. He also asks the fundamental questions: Where do we go from here? And how will we protect this fragile world—from us?

New York City in the Gilded Age: A Cultural History

Saturday, February 25, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.

The grand story of late 19th-century New York’s burgeoning wealth and emerging national dominance has its darker parallel in the world of its tenements and sweatshops. From Fifth Avenue’s Millionaire’s Row to the Lower East Side, George Scheper of Johns Hopkins University surveys the panorama of a city as it creates the foundations of its modern identity.

The Dead Sea Scrolls: What 70 Years Have Told Us

Saturday, February 25, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.

Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Gary Rendsburg examines the discovery of these precious documents, what they tell us about their authors and the era in which they were created, the controversies surrounding them, and their influence on the development of ancient Judaism and early Christianity.

The Battle of the Meuse-Argonne: 47 Days to Victory

Monday, February 27, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

Over the course of a month and a half in 1918, poorly equipped and inexperienced American doughboys managed a feat that had stymied French and British forces for more than 3 years: defeating the German army. Historian Mitchell Yockelson recounts the story of the battle that brought WWI to a close.

Agents of Change: Large-Scale Problems, Individual Impact

Monday, February 27, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

How can a single person make a difference in meeting the seemingly insurmountable social problems that face our world? Public policy specialist Zachary D. Kaufman examines how the concept of social entrepreneurship can empower individuals to take ideas and transform them into action that can help transform entire societies.

From the Podium: The Conductor's Perspective

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

A. Scott Wood, music director and conductor of the Arlington Philharmonic and the Amadeus Orchestra, offers a firsthand guide to what a conductor does from the first viewing of the score until the final performance’s bows. Participants also have the opportunity to sit in on an Arlington Philharmonic rehearsal a few days after the program.

At the Gilded Age Table

Thursday, March 2, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

Gilded Age society reveled in teas, cotillions, lawn parties, picnics, luncheons, and formal dinners—all of which had their own codes of dress and manners. Food historian Francine Segan examines the foods and entertainments enjoyed by the upper crust. A light reception with a period-inspired menu follows.

Henry VIII: The Man Behind the Crown

Saturday, March 4, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.

An egomaniacal monarch? A driven political and religious reformer? A notorious serial queen-maker? If any king suffered from a centuries-old image problem, it’s Henry VIII. Join scholar Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger for an unvarnished and comprehensive look at the man whose bigger-than-life royal legend masks a complex man.

John Feinstein: Basketball Legends, March Madness, and More

Tuesday, March 7, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

The writer shares stories from his newest book (on college basketball’s fiercest rivalry among three North Carolina coaches), previews March Madness, and talks with announcer Phil Hochberg about the sports world he knows so well.

Cultural Heritage Under Attack: Ancient Crimes, Modern Targets

Wednesday, March 8, 2017 at 6:45 p.m.

From the sacking of the Acropolis in the fifth century BC to the destruction of ancient monuments in the contemporary Middle East, conflicts, greed, and natural forces often put the cultural heritage of nations at risk. Archaeologist  Frederick Winter moderates a panel that explores how professionals in a variety of fields are working to secure important sites from looters, document unique monuments, and protect buildings from threats such as earthquakes, rising seas, and mass tourism.

The Celtic World: Ancient and Modern

Saturday, March 11, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.

Does our contemporary fascination with all things Celtic truly reflect the complex history and heritage of these ancient peoples? Historian Jennifer Paxton traces how their legacy affects culture and politics in the nations and regions commonly known as the Celtic Fringe—as well as in the wider world.

Traveling on the Danube: River of History

Saturday, April 8, 2017 at 10 a.m.

Over its storied history, the Danube River has played a critical role as the long-standing frontier of the Roman Empire, a highway for goods, the route of emperors and kings, and a vital source of water for 20 million people. Art historian Ursula Rehn Wolfmann travels through time to explore some of the most historic and beautiful places along its shores.

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