Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns named honorary degree recipient

March 20, 2009

Hershey, Pa. — Award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns will receive an honorary doctoral degree from Penn State.
The University’s Board of Trustees approved Burns as an honorary-degree recipient today (March 20). He will receive the degree of doctor of humane letters at one of Penn State’s future commencement ceremonies.

Burns has been making documentary films for more than 30 years, and his productions have won four Emmy awards and garnered two Academy Award nominations, among many other distinctions. Often cited as his masterpiece is “The Civil War,” a nine-part series first broadcast by PBS in 1990. Burns served as the series’ director, producer, co-writer, chief cinematographer, music director and executive producer.
“The Civil War” won more than 40 major television and film honors, including two Emmy awards, two Grammy awards, a People’s Choice award, a Peabody award, and Producer of the Year award from the Producers Guild of America. The series has been viewed by an estimated 40 million people worldwide.
Among his other notable works are “Brooklyn Bridge” (1981), “Baseball” (1994), “Frank Lloyd Wright” (1998), “JAZZ” (2001), and “The War: An Intimate History, 1941—1945” (2007). His four-hour documentary, “Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery,” earned the second-highest ratings in PBS history when it first aired in 1997.

Burns is well known for making extensive, creative use of historical still photographic prints and other illustrations, zooming and panning the images to give the feeling of motion and life. It has since become a style widely imitated in other film documentaries, slide shows and even screen savers, and has become known in the industry as the Ken Burns Effect.

The late historian and documentary consultant Stephen Ambrose affirmed that “more Americans get their history from Ken Burns than from any other source.”

Born in Brooklyn in 1953, Burns is a 1975 graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. He lives in Walpole, N. H., with his wife, Julie.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 16, 2009