An Evening With Author Erik Larson and More Programs in May

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

A portrait of a man wearing a dark shirt
Best-selling author Erik Larson, known for The Devil in the White City (2003) and Dead Wake: The Crossing of the Lusitania (2015) among others, will discuss his latest book at an in-person event on May 1 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.  Nina Subin

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

Wednesday, May 1 

Lincoln: The Months Before Sumter: Drawing on his new book The Demon of Unrest, Erik Larson examines the chaotic months between Lincoln’s election in November 1860 and the Confederacy’s shelling of Sumter—a period marked by tragic errors and miscommunications, enflamed egos and craven ambitions, personal tragedies and betrayals. Using information from diaries, secret communiques, slave ledgers and plantation records, Larson discusses the five months that led to the start of the Civil War—a slow-burning crisis that finally tore a deeply divided nation in two. This program will be held in person at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History at 6:45 p.m. ET. A pre-signed copy of the book is included in the ticket price. $50 

Thursday, May 2 

Making Democracy Count: Math’s Influential Role in Voting and Representation: Are you feeling like it’s impossible to repair our ailing democracy and the mechanisms that power it? Math holds the key to creating an infrastructure that benefits everyone, says math professor Ismar Volić. Presenting mathematical thinking as an objective, nonpartisan framework, Volic explains why the current voting system stifles political diversity and the Electoral College must be rethought—and suggests what can work better. This program will be held on Zoom at 6:30 p.m. ET. $20-$25 

Saturday, May 4 

Great Houses of Scotland and Their Treasures: The architecture and interiors of Scotland’s finest historic houses uniquely reflect the country’s heritage and culture. In a richly illustrated day-long journey into history, cultural historian Lorella Brocklesby explores more than 400 years of splendor from fortified 16th-century tower houses and palaces of Baroque extravagance to elegant 18th-century residences and exuberant revival styles of the Victorian period. Participants enrolled in the Smithsonian World History Certificate program will earn 1 credit. This program will be held on Zoom from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET. $80-$90 

Learn to create cyanotype prints in an online two-session weekend workshop (May 4 and May 11) or in person at the Smithsonian's S. Dillon Ripley Center on May 19. Sammie Correa

Hand-On History of Photography: Cyanotypes: Delve into the history of cyanotypes, a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue and white print, and create your own cyanotype in this unique studio arts class. Participants enrolled in the Smithsonian World History Certificate program will earn 1/2 credit. This 2-session program will be held on Zoom at 6:45 p.m. ET. The second session will take place on May 11. $85-$105 

Monday, May 6 

“Bridgerton” and the Real World of Regency London: Society in Regency London was ruled by a few hundred wealthy families whose strict codes of conduct, fashion and social customs dictated who and what was acceptable. Fans of the “Bridgerton” series know them as the Ton, celebrities of the day who engaged in what was described as "a business of pleasure." Historian Julie Taddeo examines the tightly circumscribed lives of these fashionable men and women and how the Ton was eventually forced to welcome non-aristocratic members into their ranks or risk dying off. This program will be held on Zoom at 6:45 p.m. ET. $20-$25 

Wednesday, May 8 

Susan Page on Barbara Walters: Television’s Rulebreaker: Barbara Walters was a force from the time TV was exploding on the American scene in the 1960s to its waning dominance in a new world of streaming services and social media. Drawing from her new biography of Walters, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today, examines the woman behind the legacy—one whose personal demons fueled an ambition that broke all the rules and finally gave women a permanent place on the air. This program will be held on Zoom at 6:45 p.m. ET. $25-$30 

Thursday, May 9 

Captivating Spring Gardens: The Scott Arboretum and the Mt. Cuba Center: The Philadelphia region boasts the title of America's Garden Capital­, and with more public gardens than anywhere else in the country, it’s a well-deserved one. Spend a day with horticulturist Chelsea Mahaffey exploring two captivating green spaces in the area— the Scott Arboretum on the Swarthmore College campus and the Brandywine Valley’s Mt. Cuba Center—and gather new ideas for your own home garden. This all-day study tour will depart at 8 a.m. from the Mayflower Hotel at 1127 Connecticut Ave N.W. in Washington D.C. $195-$245 

Molds, Mushrooms, and Medicines: From beneficial yeasts that aid digestion to toxic molds that cause disease, we are constantly navigating a world filled with fungi. Drawing on the latest advances in mycology, biologist Nicholas P. Money explores the amazing ways fungi interact with our bodies, showing how our health and well-being depend on an immense ecosystem of yeasts and molds inside and all around us. This program will be held on Zoom at 6:45 p.m. ET. $20-$25 

Language Peeves: Inner Grammandos vs. Inner Wordies: From her perspective as a historian of the English language, linguist, and veteran English professor at the University of Michigan, Anne Curzan examines some common peeves in grammar, tackling such puzzlers as “who vs. whom,” “less vs. fewer,” “based on vs. based off,” and the eternal “between you and I.” She explores how we can reconcile the clash of our inner grammando (who can’t help but judge bits of usage we see and hear) and inner wordie (who loves to play Wordle and make new puns and the like) and offers tools for becoming an even more skilled word watcher. This program will be held on Zoom at 6:30 p.m. ET. $25-$30 

Tuesday, May 14 

Silk: A World History: Silk, prized for its lightness, luminosity, and beauty is also one of the strongest biological materials known. The technologies it has inspired—from sutures to pharmaceuticals, replacement body parts to holograms—continue to be developed in laboratories around the world. Author Aarathi Prasad outlines the cultural and scientific history of the fabric including its origins, the ancient silk routes, and its future as a powerful resource. This program will be held on Zoom at 12 p.m. ET. $25-$30 

Spiritual But Not Religious: Healthy Trend or Crisis of Faith?: Is it possible to be spiritual and not religious at the same time? Self-identification as “SBNR” is a growing trend in the United States and abroad that promotes the de-institutionalization of religion and a kind of spiritual individuation. Comparative religion scholar Graham Schweig analyzes this phenomenon psychologically and theologically by drawing from ancient Eastern and Western wisdom traditions. This program will be held on Zoom at 6:30 p.m. ET. $25-$30 

Tune in May 19 to learn the history of local Washington, D.C. urban oasis, Rock Creek Park—the third national park created in the United States and the first in a major city. Boulder Bridge, Rock Creek Park

Thursday, May 16 

Urban Oasis: A History of Rock Creek Park: In 1890 more than 2,000 acres winding through Northwest Washington were set aside as a refuge for wildlife and an escape for District residents designed by the Olmstead Brothers: Rock Creek Park. Carolyn Muraskin surveys familiar parts of the landscape, including the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, as well as lesser-known landmarks, memorials, ruins, and other remnants of Rock Creek’s past. This program will be held on Zoom at 7 p.m. ET. $25-$30 

Friday, May 17 

It's About Time: Organizing the Calendar, Times Zones, and the Clock: Once upon a time, humans could mostly ignore the clock, but the Industrial Age and its expanding system of railroads forced societies to devise a system of global timekeeping. Journalist Adam Tanner traces the intriguing evolution of the human invention of time—the source of today’s crazy quilt of different times across the globe, which developed after surprisingly heated international debate—as well as the time-focused controversies that continue today. This program will be held on Zoom at 12 p.m. ET. $25-$30 

Sunday, May 19 

Cyanotype Workshop: The cyanotype photographic method uses the sun to expose UV-light–sensitive chemicals in order to create rich, deep blue prints. Learn a short history of cyanotypes and how to use the cyanotype chemicals alongside objects from nature or your home, then put basic techniques to work to create prints. This weekend workshop will take place in person at the Smithsonian’s Ripley Center from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET $70-$85 

Wednesday, May 22 

Propagating Orchids: Join an orchid care expert for a fun, informative evening exploring a beautiful, and sometimes challenging to grow, favorite household plant. This program will be held on Zoom at 6:30 p.m. ET. $50-$65 

Wednesday, May 29 

Hog Island: Maine’s Showcase of Nature: Tucked away along coastal Maine, Hog Island is the home of a National Audubon Society camp that has been operation since 1936. Isolated from the outside world and filled with both pristine forest and coastal habitats, the surrounding Muscongus Bay teems with terns, bald eagles, common eiders, and seals. Naturalist Matt Felperin shares his experiences at the camp, displays striking wildlife photos, and reveals why Hog Island should be on your bucket list of nature-education programs. This program will be held on Zoom at 7 p.m. ET. $25-$30 

Thursday, May 30 

Adventures in the Archives—and Beyond: An Historian’s Unconventional Research: For historians like Megan Kate Nelson, the “archive,” usually a library, university, museum, or historical society collection, is a sacred place. But what happens when these sources don’t contain the answers they seek? Nelson unfolds three research adventures that led her to places beyond the traditional archives—including a mountain pass in New Mexico—during her preparation for The Three-Cornered War, a book about the Civil War in the desert Southwest. This program will be held on Zoom at 12 p.m. ET. $25-$30 

Anna May Wong: Hollywood’s Unsung Heroine: The taboo-smashing star Anna May Wong challenged Hollywood at its own game by speaking out about the industry’s blatant racism. Unhappy with being typecast as a China doll or dragon lady, she used her international fame to reshape Asian American representation in film. Biographer Katie Gee Salisbury discusses Wong’s career as a groundbreaking artist, bringing an unsung heroine to light and reclaiming her place in cinema history. This program will be held on Zoom at 6:45 p.m. ET. $20-$25 

To view the Smithsonian Associates digital program guide, visit