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Dayton Duncan is an Emmy award-winning writer and documentary film maker, best known for his stunning series The National Parks, America’s Best Idea. An artistic visionary who brings history to life through his books and film, he has been the creative partner of director, Ken Burns for over twenty years.

Duncan has been a consultant or writer/producer for the two most watched programs in PBS’s history, the documentary series The Civil War and Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery. Overall his impressive portfolio of films and books captures the heart and spirit of U.S. history and culture.

In addition to his career as a writer and filmmaker, Duncan has been a key figure in State and National campaigns and administrations. He was New Hampshire Gov. Hugh Gallen’s Chief of Staff; the deputy national press secretary for Walter Mondale's presidential campaign in 1984; and national press secretary for Michael Dukakis's 1988 presidential campaign. President Clinton appointed him chair of the American Heritage Rivers Advisory Committee and Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt appointed him as a director of the National Park Foundation.

Full Profile

    Dayton′s most recent work is the award winning series The National Parks: America′s Best Idea, which has been broadcast nationally on PBS in 2009 and 2010.

    He is the author of nine books. Out West: A Journey Through Lewis & Clark′s America chronicles his retracing of the Lewis and Clark trail; it was a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection and finalist for the Western Writers of America′s Spur Award. Grass Roots: One Year in the Life of the New Hampshire Presidential Primary is a unique look at presidential politics through the experiences of grass roots volunteers. Miles From Nowhere: In Search of the American Frontier examines the current conditions, history, and people of the most sparsely settled counties in the United States. Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, published in November 1997; Mark Twain, published in November 2001; and Horatio′s Drive, 2003, are companion books to documentary films he wrote and produced. His most recent work is Scenes of Visionary Enchantment: Reflections on Lewis & Clark, a collection of essays released in conjunction with the Lewis and Clark bicentennial.

    Two books for young readers were published in the fall of 1996: People of the West, named a Notable Children′s Trade Book for 1996 by the National Council of Social Studies and the Children′s Book Council, and The West: An Illustrated History for Children, which was selected by The New Yorker magazine for its “short list” of the 16 best children′s books of 1996 and won a Western Heritage award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

    Articles of his have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, American Heritage magazine, The Old Farmer′s Almanac, and many other publications.

    Duncan has also been involved for many years with the work of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. He was a consultant on Burns′s award-winning series for public television, THE CIVIL WAR, BASEBALL and JAZZ. For a 12-hour series about the history of the American West, broadcast in 1996, Duncan was the co-writer and consulting producer. It won the Erik Barnouw Award from the Organization of American Historians.

    He is the writer and producer of Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, a four-hour documentary broadcast in November 1997. The film attained the second-highest ratings (following The Civil War) in the history of PBS and won a Western Heritage award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, a Spur Award from the Western Writers of America, and a CINE Golden Eagle, as well as many other honors. He is the co-writer and producer of Mark Twain, a four-hour film biography of the great American humorist which was broadcast on PBS in 2002. Another recent film with Burns is Horatio′s Drive, about the first transcontinental automobile trip, which he wrote and produced. It won a Christopher Award.

    In politics, Duncan served as chief of staff to New Hampshire Gov. Hugh Gallen; deputy national press secretary for Walter Mondale′s presidential campaign in 1984; and national press secretary for Michael Dukakis′s 1988 presidential campaign. President Clinton appointed him chair of the American Heritage Rivers Advisory Committee and Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt appointed him as a director of the National Park Foundation. In 2009, along with Burns, the director of the National Park Service named Duncan as an Honorary Park Ranger, an honor bestowed on fewer than 50 people in history.

    Born and raised in Indianola, Iowa, Duncan graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971 with a degree in German literature and was also a fellow at Harvard′s Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy. He holds honorary doctorates from Franklin Pierce College and Drake University.


Dayton Duncan Speaker Videos Back to top

Keynote Speech


Dayton Duncan explains just how revolutionary the creation of the first national park was, setting a precedent of protecting America’s most beautiful natural scenery so that people of all backgrounds could enjoy their wonders. Prior to Abraham Lincoln signing a bill to preserve a place called Yosemite, the most majestic parts of any country were closed off and limited to royalty and noblemen.

Though they may not have thought of it at the time, Duncan theorizes that Lincoln and his congress were essentially applying the principles of the Declaration of Independence to the landscape. “Our democracy, our most majestic places would be preserved for everyone and for all time,” he states, noting that today most people take it for granted that these places are shielded from exploitation and open to the public. “The idea, this park idea that these places belong to everyone and needed to be preserved for everyone forever, like our democracy, was an experiment.”

The National Parks: America′s Best Idea


Dayton Duncan Interview



Speeches / Speaking Engagements Back to top


American history scholar and award-winning author and filmmaker, Dayton Duncan has dedicated his life to preserving the U.S.’s national parks and heritage and inspiring the nation’s residents to do the same. His presentations include riveting narratives that have shaped the world we live in today. One of the best known documentarians, he offers unmatched knowledge and insights into the past and the guidelines it offers us for our present and future.

Suggested Speaking Topics:

  • Lewis and Clark: A Journey of the Corps of Discovery
  • The National Parks: America′s Best Idea
  • Miles From Nowhere: In Search of the American Frontier
  • Mark Twain
  • People of the West: A Presentation for Children
  • The Life of a Documentary Filmmaker




* Please note that while this speaker’s specific speaking fee falls within the range posted above (for Continental U.S. based events), fees are subject to change. For current fee information or international event fees (which are generally 50-75% more than U.S based event fees), please contact us.

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Suggested Speaking Topics:

  • Lewis and Clark: A Journey of the Corps of Discovery
  • The National Parks: America′s Best Idea
  • Miles From Nowhere: In Search of the American Frontier
  • Mark Twain
  • People of the West: A Presentation for Children
  • The Life of a Documentary Filmmaker


Keynote Speech


Dayton Duncan explains just how revolutionary the creation of the first national park was, setting a precedent of protecting America’s most beautiful natural scenery so that people of all backgrounds could enjoy their wonders. Prior to Abraham Lincoln signing a bill to preserve a place called Yosemite, the most majestic parts of any country were closed off and limited to royalty and noblemen.

Though they may not have thought of it at the time, Duncan theorizes that Lincoln and his congress were essentially applying the principles of the Declaration of Independence to the landscape. “Our democracy, our most majestic places would be preserved for everyone and for all time,” he states, noting that today most people take it for granted that these places are shielded from exploitation and open to the public. “The idea, this park idea that these places belong to everyone and needed to be preserved for everyone forever, like our democracy, was an experiment.”

The National Parks: America′s Best Idea


Dayton Duncan Interview