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Aug 21

The Secret-Seeker: Vanessa Braganza AM ’21 PhD ’24, Historical Detective – In Person

Monday, August 21, 2023 @ 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm EDT

$60.00 – $80.00

Our Executive Director, Julia, made it just under halfway through the New York Timesarticle on Vanessa Braganza AM ’21 PhD ’24 before sending its subject a note saying “we would love to have you come speak!” The article was about Braganza’s discovery and subsequent decoding of a cipher designed by Hans Holbein on behalf of Katherine of Aragon, and the combination of the fascinating subject and the approachability of her manner (she describes the process of decoding ciphers as “early modern Wordle”) meant that her work was ideal for a Harvard Club of Washington event. But let’s let Vanessa describe it herself:

“Sometimes, the voices of the past speak to us in strange tongues and unexpected forms. My work immerses me in the whispers of cryptic voices from the Renaissance–in messages sent in secret and hidden in plain sight. Unbeknownst to many, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw a revolution in cryptography in England unparalleled until the codebreakers of World War II. In my exploration of this historical underworld and the voices it conceals and preserves, I encountered an unsolved cipher designed by Hans Holbein, King Henry VIII’s royal painter. My quest to uncover the secrets of this symbol led me to uncover its connections to Katherine of Aragon, Henry’s first queen–and her hitherto unknown connections to the beginnings of cryptic writing at the Tudor court. Join me as I unravel the mystery of Katherine of Aragon and her ciphers.”

About the speaker:

Vanessa Braganza AM ’21 PhD ’24 is a writer and book detective pursuing her PhD in English literature at Harvard and her JD at Columbia Law School. Her historical detective work has been featured in The New York Times, the Times, and Smithsonian Magazine. She has also published in a variety of academic journals and volumes, most recently the Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Women’s Writing (2022) and she writes regularly for Smithsonian Magazine. She is currently at work on her first book, The Secret-Seekers: A Detective’s Quest to Decipher the Renaissance.



Strawberry Citrus Salad (Vegan, GF)
Strawberry and orange segments with arugula, spinach,
cucumbers, and red onions tossed with a honey orange


Pan-roasted Lemon Thyme Chicken Breast (GF)
Chicken topped with a lemon vinaigrette

Summer Shrimp Provençale (GF)
Gulf shrimp tossed with heirloom summer tomato, garlic,
onions, corn and finished with rooftop herbs

Beyond Meat Cacciatore (Vegan, GF)
Topped with mushroom, grilled onion and roasted


Roasted Haricots Verts & Baby Carrots (Vegan, GF)

Couscous with Roasted Tomato & Herbs


Chef’s assorted sweets

Plus beer, wine, soft drinks, coffee & tea

Covid-related Safety Requirements: If you have recently tested positive or have symptoms, please do not attend this event. The Club encourages everyone to be vaccinated and boosted, and to follow other prevention steps recommended by the CDC and local public health authorities.


Monday, August 21, 2023
6:30 pm - 8:30 pm EDT
$60.00 – $80.00


Hogan Lovells
555 13th St NW
Washington, DC 20004
+ Google Map


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