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Ken Burns      

Historian & Award-Winning Documentary Filmmaker

Ken Burns has been making documentary films for over forty years. Since the Academy Award nominated Brooklyn Bridge in 1981, Burns has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries ever made.

A December 2002 poll conducted by Real Screen Magazine named Burns one of the “most influential documentary makers” of all time. Burns' films have won sixteen Emmy Awards and two Oscar nominations, and in September of 2008, at the News & Documentary Emmy Awards, he was honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also been the recipient of more than thirty honorary degrees and has delivered many treasured commencement addresses. He is a sought-after public speaker, appearing at colleges, civic organizations and business groups throughout the country.

In March 2020 PBS broadcast East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story, a feature-length documentary that explores the history of public housing by focusing on the experiences of the residents of one housing project in Atlanta, Georgia.

In April of 2021 PBS broadcast "Hemingway," a three-episode, six-hour series Ken co-directed with Lynn Novick that chronicles the visionary work and turbulent life of one of the greatest and most influential American writers, weaving together excerpts from his fiction, non-fiction and personal correspondence. The film penetrates the mythology surrounding Hemingway—cultivated by his larger than life exploits, public bravado and occasional tall tale—to reveal a deeply troubled and ultimately tragic figure.

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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