Reading the Constitution With Justice Stephen Breyer and Other Extraordinary Programs in March

Online or in person, Smithsonian Associates offers classes, discussions and lectures for curious minds

The cover of the book, Reading the Constitution, features Justice Stephen Breyer sitting in front of a blazing fire.
Recently retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer examines different judicial approaches to interpreting the Constitution and the law on March 27.  Fred Schilling/Supreme Court of the United States

Smithsonian Associates offers innovative, engaging learning experiences for people of all ages. Hundreds of livestreamed and in-person lectures, seminars, performances, studio arts classes, study tours and children’s programs are offered annually. To view the Smithsonian Associates digital program guide, visit 


Saturday, March 2 

The Making of a Monarch: English Kings and Queens and Their Mums: Who are the women who rocked the royal cradle and changed the course of English history? Join scholar Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger as she examines the fascinating relationships of kings and queens and their mothers. This all-day seminar is held on Zoom from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET. $80-$90 


Wednesday, March 6

Birds of Puerto Rico: Discover the wild side of Puerto Rico with naturalist Matt Felperin who surveys the island’s variety of rare, endemic bird species. In this lively and tempting travelogue, Felperin shares his birding experience and reveals Puerto Rico’s surprising diversity of habitats, climate and culture. This program is presented on Zoom from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET. $25-$30  

The Japanese Empire: From Politics to Baseball: Though it lasted for only 50 years, the Japanese empire forever changed the geopolitical balance in Asia and left a complex legacy that endures to this day. In the final session of a winter series focused on the history of the Japanese empire, historian Justin M. Jacobs highlights the evolution of the global video games industry, along with the unexpected role of Nintendo, one of Japan’s most famous companies. This program is presented on Zoom from 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET. $25 


Thursday, March 7 

Bedrich Smetana: Visions of a Bohemian Homeland: To honor Smetana’s 200th birthday year, pianist and scholar Rachel Franklin explores powerful legacy of the Czech Republic’s first nationalist composer. In this afternoon lecture, Franklin will also spotlight the many lesser-known piano and operatic gems by this pioneering Czech master. This program is presented on Zoom from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. ET. $25-$30 

The Best of the Barnes Foundation Philadelphia: Join Barnes Foundation educator Penny Hansen as she presents highlights of the collection. Hansen uses high-definition Deep Zoom technology developed by the Barnes and looks at the canvases and objects that reveal their surfaces and details in ways that bring the art and the artists to vivid life. Participants enrolled in the Smithsonian World History Certificate program will earn 1 credit. This three-session afternoon series is presented on Zoom from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET. $80-$90 


Friday. March 8 

Writing a Novel: A Character-Driven Approach: Elizabeth Poliner guides a four-session, afternoon program presenting a character-driven approach to novel writing—one that allows novels to develop organically, moving from character into plot and structure. Poliner also discusses narration, theme, research and the ever-essential role of revision. This program is presented on Zoom from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET. $80-$90 

Focus on all things Oscar with film critic Noah Gittell to hear behind-the-scenes stories, rumors and gossip on March 8. Smithsonian Associates

A Night at the Oscars: Washington City Paper film critic Noah Gittell hosts an evening that focuses on all things Oscar, from Academy Awards history and trivia to discussions of this year’s nominations and behind-the-scenes stories. He sorts through all the story lines, rumors and gossip, so that when the telecast begins, you'll be the most knowledgeable guest at your Oscar party. Predictions of winners in several major categories will be entertained – including prizes for the most accurate predictions. This program is presented on Zoom from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET. $20-$25 


Thursday, March 9 

Why Shakespeare's Histories Matter: Rethinking Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1, and Henry IV, Part 2: In this all-day program, Joseph Luzzi, professor of literature at Bard College, explores the rich world of Shakespeare’s history plays and discusses how Shakespeare’s combination of linguistic brilliance and piercing psychological insights creates a poetic understanding of history that goes beyond factual and rational historiographical approaches in their illumination of the past. This program is presented on Zoom from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET. $80-$90 


Sunday, March 10 

Great Horned Owls: Hiding in Plain Sight: Join naturalist Mark H.X. Glenshaw in a deep dive into the study of these magnificent creatures in a program rich in audio clips, photos and videos. Glenshaw covers the basic facts about the species, how he finds these owls, their camouflage, nocturnal habits and silent flight, and their various fascinating behaviors. This program is presented on Zoom from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. ET. $20-$25 


Tuesday, March 12 

“Make ‘Em Laugh": A History of Movie Comedy from Charlie Chaplin to Mel Brooks: Since the beginning of motion pictures, making audiences laugh has been one of the film industry’s biggest box office attractions. Media historian Brian Rose looks at major highlights of screen comedy over the last 125 years, illustrated with more than 40 examples from Hollywood’s funniest films. This program is presented on Zoom from 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET. $20-$25 


Thursday, March 14 

Wuthering Heights: High School Classics Revisited: Joseph Luzzi, professor of literature at Bard College, reveals the novel’s defining qualities and characteristics, with a focus on its Romantic elements, dazzling mix of the supernatural and natural and construction of compelling characters. Luzzi also discusses the different modes of storytelling Brontë employs in a work that seamlessly blends a variety of storytelling techniques and sophisticated literary devices. This program is presented on Zoom from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET. $30-$35 


Tuesday, March 19 

Uranus and Neptune: The Outer Ice Giants: Kathleen Mandt, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Research Center, highlights what we know about Uranus and Neptune, what questions are still unanswered, why it is imperative that we send a mission to learn more about these planets and what that information could tell us about the rest of our solar system—and beyond. This program is presented on Zoom from 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. ET. $25-$30 


Wednesday, March 20  

Rivalries in Medicine: How Humanity Can Benefit from the Worst in People: Join surgeon and author Andrew Lam as he discusses the rivalries between Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch, Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, and the quartet of doctors who warred over credit for the discovery of anesthesia. Lam is an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and author of The Masters of Medicine: Our Greatest Triumphs in the Race to Cure Humanity’s Deadliest Diseases. This program is presented on Zoom from 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET. $20-$25 


Tuesday, March 26 

The WWI Navy: Second to None: Chris Rentfrow, director of the Navy Museums Division, Naval History and Heritage Command at Washington Navy Yard, examines the growing role of the Navy in peace and war during early decades of the 20th century. He discusses the launch of the first dreadnaught battleship, USS South Carolina; the creation of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations; and the announced intention in 1916 to build a "Navy second to none" as steppingstones toward shaping the force that entered action in 1917. This program is presented on Zoom from 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET. $20-$25 

Revisit the story of the Senator’s victorious World Series with historian Fred Frommer and former stadium announcer Phil Hochberg on March 26.  Photograph of the Washington Senators, early 1930s (Library of Congress)

Washington’s First World Series: When the Washington Senators Were America’s Team: Celebrate the centennial year of the Senators’ victorious World Series run with sports historian Fred Frommer and former Senators stadium announcer Phil Hochberg, who cover the compelling story of this history-making team and touch on the mostly fallow years that followed. This program is presented on Zoom from 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET. $20-$25  

Wednesday, March 27 

Justice Stephen Breyer on Reading the Constitution: The ascendent judicial philosophy of textualism that now dominates the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution by reading the text carefully and examining the language as it was understood at the time the document was written—to the exclusion of other evidence. Drawing from his new book, Reading the Constitution: Why I Chose Pragmatism, Not Textualism, recently retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer deconstructs the textualist approach of the current Court’s supermajority and makes the case for a better, more traditional way to interpret the law. In conversation with Nina Totenberg, NPR's legal affairs correspondent, he examines different judicial approaches to the Constitution and reveals why he believes that textualism alone cannot and will not work. This program will be held on Zoom from 7:45 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. ET. Tickets to the in-person program are sold out. $25-$35 

To view the Smithsonian Associates digital program guide, visit