Uncover the Historical and Cultural Gems of Washington, D.C.
Welcome to the interactive course guide for The Great Tours: Washington, D.C.. Here you will find the full 24-video series, as well as quizzes, reader polls, interactive maps, and further reading suggestions to help guide you through your virtual tour of our nation's capital.
Welcome to your tour guide of our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Start off with this overview of the places you’ll see, people you’ll meet, and history you’ll learn in the following 24 articles. […]
To begin your journey to this world-class city, uncover the origins of the District of Columbia and how the location for our national government was chosen. Learn about the original design and vision for the city by artist/engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant. Then trace the creation and colorful history of the National Mall, and the building of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. […]
Track the history and the dramatic fortunes of the White House, from its building, expansion, burning, reconstruction, and further expansions down to the present. Then visit the White House, beginning with the Oval Office and Cabinet Room and following the route of a White House tour. Also visit the parks adjoining the White House, and the Jefferson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorials on the National Mall. […]
At the seat of the U.S. legislature, learn how the Capitol building was designed, constructed, and expanded in the early years of the nation. Tour the architectural and artistic wonders of the building, from the Capitol Rotunda to the Statuary Hall, Brumidi Corridors, Hall of Columns, and other key features. Conclude with the House and Senate Chambers, and the surrounding parks and gardens. […]
Study the founding and history of the Supreme Court, from its early era as an itinerant legal body to the completion of the Court building in 1935 under William Howard Taft. Tour this extraordinary monument, its interior features, court facilities, and artistic decoration. Then explore the Court in action, encompassing courtroom procedure and how cases are selected, adjudicated, and ruled upon. […]
Visit the stunning premises of the world’s largest library, starting with the story of the library’s creation in the 18th century. Begin your tour with the monumental Jefferson Building, with its glorious Beaux Arts décor, followed by the remarkable facilities of the Adams and Madison Buildings. Also, visit the extraordinary Folger Shakespeare Library, and D.C.’s beloved Eastern Market. […]
Look into the origins and functions of the State Department, and visit the United States Diplomacy Center, as well as the stellar Diplomatic Reception Rooms. Continue with the Treasury Department’s Federal Reserve buildings, the beautiful Treasury Building, and the operations of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Then take in the fascinating history and headquarters of the FBI. […]
At the first of three iconic war memorials, learn the poignant story behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, and how this once controversial monument is now considered a masterpiece. From there, take account of the artistically conceived Korean War Veterans Memorial, and finally the World War II Memorial, and its moving tribute to the “greatest generation.” […]
Grasp the historic connections between Arlington National Cemetery and the American Civil War. At the cemetery, begin by visiting some of the gravesites of famous citizens and the former mansion of Robert E. Lee. Among the landmark sites there, see the Memorial Amphitheater, the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Marine Corps Memorial, Air Force Memorial, and the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. […]
At the home and estate of George Washington, trace Washington’s early life, and his inheritance and expansion of the plantation now known as Mount Vernon. Tour the estate, highlighting the impressive interior features of the mansion, a major focal point of social and political life in Virginia. In nearby Alexandria, visit historic sites associated with the life and career of George Washington. […]
This lecture considers how the Civil War and the Lincoln presidency transformed the city. Among key sites of the era, explore the historic Willard Hotel and its dramatic connection with Lincoln; Fort Stevens and its wartime role; the Clara Barton House museum; and the Lincoln Cottage, the “summer White House.” Then visit Ford’s Theatre, the site and memorial of the Lincoln assassination. […]
Witness the impact of the Civil Rights movement on Washington, D.C., beginning with the life and work of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and visit the historic site of his home. As the focus of this lecture, take an in-depth tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, its major galleries, and 36,000 artifacts that tell the nation’s story through the lens of the black experience. […]
Study the background of the extraordinary Holocaust Museum, its mission to preserve the history of Nazi atrocities against Jews and other persecuted groups, and the movement to memorialize these events through a museum and education center. Observe how the museum poignantly evokes pre-war Jewish experience, the horror of the Holocaust, and its aftermath and legacy, through images, personal objects, and oral histories. […]
In a panoramic overview of the Smithsonian Institution, begin at the National Museum of American History, and its collection of historical treasures. Continue with the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the phenomenal collections of the National Air and Space Museum. Conclude with the wealth of art museums on the National Mall. […]
Delve into the history of political scandals in Washington and how the nation has come to terms with them. Learn first about the 19th-century Burr Conspiracy, focusing on former Vice President Aaron Burr. Then take stock of the scandals under President Ulysses S. Grant, the infamous Teapot Dome scandal, and finally the Watergate scandal, finishing at the Newseum, a media history museum. […]
Within Washington’s hotbed of live entertainment, visit the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, with its multiple performance spaces. Then learn about the National Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre, and Folger Theatre, D.C.’s outstanding regional theaters, and music offerings from the National Symphony Orchestra to venues featuring jazz, rock, folk, bluegrass, blues, and alternative music. […]
D.C.’s Northwest quadrant is home to some of the city’s oldest and most historic neighborhoods. Take in the beautiful architecture of Embassy Row, and that of two magnificent nearby mansions. Visit the Dupont Circle neighborhood and its extraordinary museums, as well as those of The George Washington University. Finish with a first look at the history and cultural richness of Georgetown. […]
Washington’s private homes provide a fascinating window on the city’s history. Begin at the pre-Revolutionary Old Stone House, which shows how early D.C. citizens lived, followed by three grand and storied mansions in Upper Georgetown. Then visit the remarkable Octagon House, the Hillwood estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post, and Woodlawn, a plantation operated by free African Americans. […]
Take account of the plethora of religious institutions in Washington, D.C., and consider the role of faith in the city’s history. Stop first at St. John’s Episcopal Church, closely associated with the presidency, and D.C.’s architecturally rich Catholic churches. Visit Jewish and Muslim houses of worship, and finally take in the historic and artistic treasures of the Washington National Cathedral. […]
Trace the history and mission of the National Zoo, a Smithsonian Institution now housing 300 animal species. Learn about the Zoo’s remarkable exhibits of zoological rarities, from the clouded leopard to the giant panda. Take note of the zoo’s approach to recreating natural habitats, and the institution’s deep involvement with animal research and conservation of endangered species. […]
Washington, D.C. offers an astonishing wealth of dining experiences, from historic to contemporary. First discover two of D.C.’s long-standing food traditions: seafood and soul food. Visit treasured historic restaurants around the city, and delve into the city’s world cuisine, from Ethiopian and Mediterranean to global fusion. Also take note of food festivals that take place in D.C. throughout the year. […]
Investigate the history of D.C.’s riverfronts on the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, and the outstanding revitalization programs now underway. Stop at Kingman and Heritage Island Park, and Anacostia Park, featuring trails, boat tours, and wildlife watching. Then visit National Harbor, District Wharf, and the Georgetown waterfront, with their many dining, shopping, and cultural offerings. […]
Sports have a long-standing place in the history and culture of D.C. Track the backstory of baseball, football, and basketball teams in Washington, and learn where to watch and play these highly popular sports now. Delve also into D.C.’s hockey and soccer scene, and the abundance of “imported” sports in the capital, from rugby and cricket to Irish hurling and Gaelic football. […]
DC contains an array of beautiful, green spaces, offering an alternative to the urban landscape. Among many, discover the story and the amenities of historic Rock Creek Park, and the riverfront walks and outdoor activities along the Potomac Heritage Trail. On the Anacostia River, visit Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, with its plethora of wildlife, and the botanical riches of the National Arboretum. […]
Learn about the treasures within the National Archives, including original copies of America’s founding documents, historic murals, and the poignant Records of Rights exhibit. Revisit the history of D.C., and consider city plans that were never realized, “disappeared” Washington, and proposals for the city’s future. Conclude with thoughts on the dynamic, changing environment of D.C.
Presented by Professor Richard Kurin, Ph.D.
Smithsonian Distinguished Scholar and Ambassador-at-Large
Richard Kurin is the Smithsonian Distinguished Scholar and Ambassadorat-Large, the first person in the history of the Smithsonian Institution to hold that title. He received his BA in Anthropology and Philosophy from the University at Buffalo, and he earned both his MA and his PhD in Anthropology from The University of Chicago. During his graduate studies, Dr. Kurin was awarded a FulbrightHays Doctoral Dissertation fellowship and a Social Science Research Council fellowship.