Filmmaker Ken Burns delivered a speech last Friday evening to an audience of several hundred. Burns’s appearance was part of the Governor Jim Blanchard Public Service Forum, co-sponsored by the College of Social Science. Burns was honored for his role in sharing American history through his thought-provoking and entertaining documentaries.
The event began with an introduction by Dr. Charles Ostrom, Chair of the Department of Political Science. He noted that Governor Blanchard has made an “indelible mark” and hoped he would continue to inspire future public service. In turn, former Governor Blanchard introduced Burns, whom he called “a giant of sharing the American story.”
The role of history was the main topic of Burns’s speech at the Wharton Center. After receiving the Spartan Statesmanship Award for Distinguished Public Service, he discussed his views on how Americans understand their history and how he had sought to connect them with the past through his critically acclaimed documentaries.
Of his many films, Burns highlighted a few to specially illustrate his themes. Among these were The Civil War, Baseball, Jackie Robinson, and Jazz. Each of these documentaries examines a single subject while exploring topics that have shaped American identity, including race, war, and shared beliefs about the past. Burns hopes to inspire Americans to look at history and think critically about its role in today’s events.
Earlier in the day, he spent an hour with a class of Michigan State students.
Mr. Burns’s passion and skill for sharing history is clear in his work and shows the many possible forms public service can take. His efforts have helped millions of people learn more about the country’s history and its challenges.