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Ken Burns      

Historian & Award-Winning Documentary Filmmaker

Ken Burns, a prolific and influential figure in the realm of documentary filmmaking, has dedicated nearly five decades to crafting compelling narratives that delve into the tapestry of American history. Born on July 29, 1953, in Brooklyn, New York, Burns embarked on his cinematic journey with the Academy Award-nominated "Brooklyn Bridge" in 1981, laying the foundation for a remarkable career that would redefine the genre.

Renowned for his meticulous attention to detail and evocative storytelling, Burns has directed and produced a plethora of acclaimed historical documentaries that resonate deeply with audiences worldwide. His magnum opus, "The Civil War," stands as a testament to his mastery, earning accolades and admiration from critics and viewers alike. A December 2002 poll by Real Screen Magazine hailed it as the second most influential documentary of all time, cementing Burns' status alongside legendary filmmaker Robert Flaherty.

Throughout his career, Burns has not only chronicled pivotal moments in American history but has also reshaped the landscape of documentary filmmaking. His innovative approach transcends mere narration, offering audiences a profound insight into the complexities of the past and its enduring relevance to the present. As David Zurawik of The Baltimore Sun aptly noted in March 2009, Burns' impact extends beyond the realm of documentaries, positioning him as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, surpassing even the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

Critics and historians alike attest to the unparalleled influence of Burns' work, with the late Stephen Ambrose remarking that more Americans glean their understanding of history from Burns' films than any other source. Through his lens, Burns has not only chronicled the chronicles of the nation but has also fundamentally altered the way we perceive and engage with our collective heritage.

As he continues to captivate audiences with his poignant narratives and timeless storytelling, Ken Burns remains a towering figure in the world of documentary filmmaking, leaving an indelible mark on the medium and shaping our understanding of the past for generations to come.

Speech Topics

Sharing the American Experience (The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz)

Ken Burns reminds the audience of the timeless lessons of history, and the enduring greatness and importance of the United States in the course of human events. Incorporating The Civil War, Baseball and Jazz, Burns engages and celebrates what we share in common.

A Treasure House of Nature’s Superlatives (The National Parks: America’s Best Idea)

Burns discusses the great gift of our national parks. Here both “the immensity and the intimacy of time” merge, as we appreciate what the parks have added to our collective and individual spirit. (Begins with 13-minute clip - intro to the film.)

The Rising Road (The Roosevelts: An Intimate History)

A detailed and intimate look at three hugely influential, but deeply flawed and wounded people, who are Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt—their lives, but also their times. (Clip(s) optional.)

A History of the World (The Vietnam War)

Burns tries to make sense of the most important and most consequential event in American History since World War II. Here competing viewpoints and perspectives are balanced to give us a chance to finally come to terms with this important conflict. (Clip(s) optional.)

Old Ghosts and Ancient Tones (Country Music)

This powerful, moving speech digs deep into the history and meaning of country music. It’s all here: its greatest stars and the words and music that touch on universal human experiences. (Clip(s) optional.)


Opinion | Ken Burns: Our monuments are representations of myth, not fact
Filmmaker Ken Burns reflects on James Baldwin's understanding of liberty, and how our most venerated monuments can remind us of where America falls short.

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