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Park Ranger Speaker Series

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The Interior Library is proud to present a series of programs on the background and history of sites of interest in the Washington, D.C. region, as well as subjects highlighting the history of the United States.  The 45-minute programs, presented by National Park Service Rangers, are held in the Stewart L. Udall Department of the Interior Building

To register for a future Park Ranger Speaker Series program, please click here. For more information about our Park Ranger Speaker Series programs, please contact the Interior Library by phone at (202) 208-5815 or e-mail at

Additional Park Ranger Speaker Series programs will be posted as they are scheduled. Please check this page regularly for changes or updates.
The Burning of Washington
Tuesday, August 19, 2014, 1:00 pm – 1:45 pm

August of 1814 was one of the hottest in the memory of the approximately 8,000 residents of America's new capital. To make matters worse, the city found itself the target of an invading British army slowly making its way from the Chesapeake Bay.  As the British army approached, the majority of Washingtonians fled the city. On August 24th American defenders, with President James Madison in attendance, were quickly routed by the invaders in a battle at Bladensburg a few miles from the city. A messenger was dispatched to the White House to warn First Lady Dolley Madison of the impending arrival of the British. She and her staff fled by carriage across the Potomac - taking with her the full-length portrait of George Washington that had been torn from a White House wall.  That evening, the vanguard of the British army reached Capitol Hill and began the systematic destruction of all public buildings in the city.  

We invite you to join Park Ranger Paul O’Brian as he takes a look at what was perhaps the most demoralizing moment of the War of 1812 for the young American nation, the burning of its capital, Washington, DC.

Burning of Washington

The McMillan Plan
Tuesday, September 16, 2014, 1:00 pm - 1:45 pm

In 1901 Senator James McMillan of Michigan organized the Senate Park Commission, better known as the McMillan Commission, to undertake a new plan for the National Mall.  This plan represented a milestone in the "History of Comprehensive Urban City Planning" within the United States and produced the systematic current layout of both the National Mall and Mall Areas within the heart of the "federal central enclave" of our Nation's Capital.  The Commission, which included renowned architects Charles McKim, Daniel Burnham, and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., envisioned the Mall as a continuous green park framed by rows of elms and white classical museum buildings.  The kite-shaped McMillan Plan extended the Mall westward and southward over former river beds to form new parkland, Potomac Park, and the sites for the future Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials.

This presentation, offered by Park Ranger Eric Martin, will cover the McMillan Plan’s "historic preliminaries" leading up to its gradual implementation, the major figures involved in its progression and the various commissions that were created afterwards as a by-product of its vision.  The program will also look at its current influences as well with respect to the downtown central areas adjacent to the Mall.

McMillan Plan

A Pretty Team! - Rascality and Stupidity: Refighting Gettysburg
Tuesday, November 18, 2014, 1:00 pm – 1:45 pm

To what famous Civil War figures did contemporaries apply the words “rascality” and “stupidity” and for what reasons? Certainly, the battle actions around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania produced great bloodshed but they also generated an unabated, fierce storm of debate. Many historians rightly aver that veterans spilled more ink than blood defending Gettysburg. Washington, D.C. certainly played a huge role in that fight as Gettysburg figured prominently in the minds of political figures who sought answers as well as scapegoats. High-ranking Union general officers came to the nation’s capital to defend their actions and answer accusations of incompetence, cowardice and potential treason. Come listen to tales of rascality and stupidity as we demonstrate that Washington, D.C. always provided a stage for venom and vitriol.

We invite you to join Park Ranger Michael T. Kelly as he discusses the enduring struggle to interpret the Battle of Gettysburg—even after 150 years.