In this video submission, Ken Burns recounts how formative experiences, both deeply personal and as a young person growing up in the midst of the Civil Rights era, have shaped his perspective on American history and have informed nearly all his documentary projects.

Trying to make sense of his own individual story within the nation’s collective reckoning with race, Burns reflects on how “we human beings seek always to find some frame to understand things.” The humanities, he continues, facilitate our finding “some meaning in it all precisely because of our inevitable mortality.” He believes that the work of history, particularly biography, helps us to organize our stories, and perhaps even to divine “the way that human beings are.” Whether unsettling or inspirational, history always proves useful.

– Ken Burns (Documentary Filmmaker)