Ken Burns

Great American stories remind us of our country’s enduring past—and point toward its glowing future.

One of America’s Greatest Filmmakers

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Ken Burns | One of America’s Greatest Filmmakers

Ken Burns is without a doubt one of America’s most exceptional filmmakers. But he is also one of our great public speakers—a passionate and insightful auteur who reminds us of the timeless lessons of history and the enduring importance of the United States in the course of human events. His latest film is The Vietnam War: a ten-part, 18-hour documentary that aired on PBS this past September.

“More Americans get their history from Ken Burns than any other source.”

— Stephen Ambrose

Ken Burns’ films—which include Defying the Nazis, The RooseveltsBaseball, Jazz and The Civil War—explore the history of America, and illuminate vistas of understanding, appreciation and empathy in the millions of people who watch them. On film, Burns’ ability to bring a new perspective to American history is well-known. His work has won dozens of major awards, and two Oscar nominations. Two upcoming films include a study of country music in America and of one of our most famous writers, Ernest Hemingway.


“The most accomplished documentary filmmaker of his generation.”

The New York Times
Burns’ 1990 series, The Civil War, attracted over 40 million viewers to PBS and won over 40 awards, including two Emmys and a Peabody. His next major series, Baseball, also attracted over 40 million viewers and was called “an instructive window into our national psyche” by Time. Burns completed his American Trilogy with Jazz. Some of his other films, from his thirty years of producing and directing, include Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson and Brooklyn Bridge. Burns plans to continue his work well into the 2020s.    

Speech Topics

An Evening with Ken Burns

Any one of Ken Burns’ films contains multitudes, and, on stage, he carefully selects the most relevant and fascinating examples of human courage, dignity and achievement he has chronicled. He can discuss any facet of his famous American trilogy. He can reveal the leadership models in the story of Lewis and Clark, or delve into the often contradictory but historically significant lives of figures such as Jack Johnson, Susan B. Anthony or Mark Twain.

Whether discussing Thomas Jefferson or celebrating the common soldier in WWII, Burns addresses what we share in common, not what divides us. The effect of listening to him speak is not unlike that of watching one of his films: you are wholly immersed in a masterfully told story and, when it’s over, you leave with a new sense of the history that shaped us, and of all it has made possible today.

The National Parks A Treasure House of Nature’s Superlatives

Ken 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. 

Arts & Pop Culture
Sharing the American Experience

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.

Social Science
No Ordinary Lives

Drawing on some of Lincoln’s most stirring words as inspiration, this speech engages the paradox of war by following the powerful themes in two of Ken Burns’ best known works—The Civil War, his epic retelling of the most important event in American history, and The War, his intensely moving story of WWII told through the experiences of so-called ordinary people from four geographically distributed American towns.

Social Science
Mystic Chords of Memory

The Civil War continues to be the most important event in American history. In this eloquent address, Ken Burns paints both an intimate and bird’s eye view of the searing events of the years 1861 through 1865 and the war’s profound relevance to us today.

Social Science
American Lives

This combines the biographies of some of Ken Burns’ most fascinating subjects, including Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, and Frank Lloyd Wright. He shares how biography works, and gives insight into the storytelling process.