Ken Burns speaks at Guilford
November 14, 2003
Filed under Archives
Ken Burns’ message was clear: Listen.
Burns delivered his lecture before over 600 people on Thursday, Nov. 6, in a packed Dana Auditorium.
Listen – he wove the word through his speech, which jumped from African American culture, to the current state of the arts, to his own forte, documentaries.
“He was enthralled with history and eager to share,” said first-year Tim Scales.
The speech was a departure from Burns’ normal style of teaching through visual history, a skill he learned from documentary photographers and then later transferred to his films.
Burns has been so successful at teaching through this unique style that he has made a name for himself in the American lexicon as a pioneer in the art of film documentaries.
American audiences and organizations have praised Burns’s documentaries for over two decades now, including his three epics Baseball, The Civil War and Jazz.
The noted historian Stephen Ambrose said, “More Americans get their history from Ken Burns.”
The third speaker in the Bryan “Year of the Arts” series, Burns held a small, hour-long open question lecture in Boren Lounge where students, faculty and the general public inquired about everything from Burns’s personal life to the magic of documentary filmmaking.
He has recently finished and aired his most recent film Horatio’s Drive, which features the voice of Tom Hanks as Dr. Horatio Jackson. The film follows Jackson’s diary of America’s first cross-country car drive.
Burns followed the perilous journey in a time without road maps, gas stations, or On-Star. The film aired Oct. 6 on PBS.
Burns’ next projects include the story of the first black heavyweight world champion, Jack Johnson, whose life was fraught with prejudice and oppression.
A history of the National Parks and a view of World War II are also in the works. In the latter, Burns will use a bottom-up view of history, primarily featuring interviews with veterans .
“No one who wasn’t there will be in this film,” said Burns.
Burns ate dinner with a small group of students and professors before attending a ceremony in Hege Library.
“Ken Burns brought a wonderful historical perspective to campus,” said President Kent Chabotar.
The lecture was full of historical and personal anecdotes, and stressed what he called, “a love affair with history.” His speech wove together a history of America that encapsulated not only the triumphs of presidents and generals, but also the struggles of women and minorities, and the experience of everyday working people. Above all Burns emphasized the importance of listening to all aspects of our history – the glorious and despicable – to help our future.