Learn 'How Corn Changed Itself & Then Changed Everything Else' at Feb. 6 History Speaks

Naper Settlement's "History Speaks" lecture series will continue with "How Corn Changed Itself & Then Changed Everything Else" with Cynthia Clampitt on Sunday, Feb. 6.

This program, which is regularly scheduled for the second Sunday of the month, was rescheduled from its January date.

About 10,000 years ago, a weedy grass growing in Mexico, possessed of a strange trait known as a "jumping gene," transformed itself into a larger and more useful grass - the cereal grass that we would come to know as maize and then corn.

Nurtured by Native Americans, this grain would transform the Americas even before first contact.

After first contact, it spanned the globe, but it also drove westward expansion in North America, building cities, and inspiring innovators and entrepreneurs.

You also will learn how vampires, whiskey, and Fritos are also part of this remarkable story.

And, as Margaret Visser noted in her 1986 book "Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal," "Without corn, North America - and most particularly modern, technological North America - is inconceivable."

The program will be 4 to 5 p.m. in Century Memorial Chapel, 523 S. Webster St. in Naperville.

Cost is $10 per person. Sign up at

Clampitt is a writer and food historian. She has pursued her love of culture, history, and food in 37 countries on six continents (so far), but has in recent years focused her studies on the American Midwest. She is the author of "Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland" (University of Illinois Press); "Pigs, Pork, and Heartland Hogs: From Wild Boar to Baconfest" (Rowman & Littlefield); and "Destination Heartland: A Guide to Discovering the Midwest's Remarkable Past" (University of Illinois Press, due out March 2022).

She has written for three decades about food history but has also written more traditional history and geography for clients that include the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and National Geographic Learning.

Clampitt is a member of the Society of Women Geographers, Culinary Historians of Chicago, the Agricultural History Society, and the Midwestern History Association.

• On Sunday, Feb. 13, the lecture series will focus on the charming, flamboyant, and strong-willed Dolley Madison, who was tested in the calamity of the War of 1812. The program will be 4 to 5 p.m. Cost is $10.

Born into a Quaker family, Dolley was raised to be obedient and well-behaved. Early in her life, she married a man selected by her father. Dolley would soon be strengthened by adversity. Widowed at an early age she would soon be courted by congressman James Madison. As First Lady, Dolley would become the Grand Dame of Washington. Her strength of character would be tested to the utmost by the War of 1812.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Jessica Michna developed a love of history at an early age. She and her family visited the many historic sites throughout America. Her school years would find her appearing in various productions, in addition to costume design and construction. Upon graduation, several scholarships were offered to further her studies in theater arts. She would opt to earn a degree in psychology working several years as a researcher and lecturer.

• On March 13, Dr. Desmond Odugu will lead a discussion on "Redlining." Learn about the effects of the 20th-century state, local, and federal housing policies and practices that ensured segregated communities.

Odugu, an associate professor of education and chair of education at Lake Forest College, is a highly sought speaker and researcher in the areas of civil rights and education.

• On April 10, Leslie Goddard will talk about "Midcentury Cuisine: Food Fads from the 1940s- '60s."

Remember Jell-O salads and cheese sprayed out of a can? When every pantry held Velveeta and all the kids wanted to drink Tang?

Join the historian and author for a nostalgic look at the food innovations and marketing approaches that transformed how we ate at midcentury. Using classic cookbooks, advertisements, and family magazines, we'll explore how society and technology shaped American food from the 1940s through the 1960s.

Goddard is an award-winning actress and scholar who has been portraying famous women and presenting history lectures for more than 10 years. She holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University specializing in U.S. history and American Studies as well as master's degrees in both theater and museum studies. A former museum director, she is the author of two books on Chicago history and currently works full-time as a historical interpreter, author, and public speaker.

• On May 15, singer/songwriter and folklorist Chris Vallillo will lead the program on "Oh Freedom! Songs of the Civil Rights Movement."

The Civil Rights Movement has been described as one of the greatest singing movements that this country has experienced. From "We Shall Overcome" to "This Little Light of Mine," music played a vital role in that historic struggle both as an inspirational rallying point and as a way to spread the message of equality and justice. From the Freedom Riders, to the jails of Montgomery Alabama, and Parchment Prison, all the way to Washington D.C., both old and new songs of the era spoke of the yearning for equal rights, the struggle and the determination to win freedom. They engaged and energized the movement and became the backbone of the nonviolent civil disobedience movement led by Dr. King and others.

Music was a huge part of the process both locally and nationally. In a show created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement, award-winning folk singer Chris Vallillo performs pivotal songs from the music that inspired and sustained this landmark movement. Intermixed with the music, Vallillo presents firsthand accounts of the historic struggle and discusses the impact of music on our nation's most important social cause.

A master of bottleneck slide guitar, Vallillo weaves original, contemporary, and traditional songs and narratives into a compelling and entertaining portrait of the history and lifestyle of the Midwest. His 2016 project, Oh Freedom! Songs of the Civil Rights Movement was released on Martin Luther King Day and charted at # 6 of the National Folk charts. His one-man show, "Abraham Lincoln in Song," received the endorsement of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, and the CD of reached No. 10 on Billboard's Bluegrass Album Chart.

Naper Settlement is a nationally accredited, award-winning outdoor living history museum set on 13 acres in the heart of Naperville. Located 30 miles from Chicago, the museum is home to 31 historical structures dating back as early as the 1830s. Featuring exhibits, special events, educational programming and more, Naper Settlement is where history comes alive and the community comes to connect. For more information, visit or call (630) 420-6010.

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