Russell Riley

Professor and Co-Chair of the Presidential Oral History Program

Fast Facts

Areas Of Expertise

  • Leadership
  • Political Parties and Movements
  • Politics
  • The Presidency

Professor Russell Riley, co-chair of the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program, is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on elite oral history interviewing and the contemporary presidency. He has logged more than 1,500 hours of confidential interviews with senior members of the White House staff, cabinet officers, and foreign leaders back to the days of the Carter and Reagan Administrations. Since 2003, he has led both the William J. Clinton Presidential History Project and the George W. Bush Oral History Project. He has lectured extensively on American politics and oral history methods across the United States, as well as in China, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Austria, Spain, Ireland, and the Netherlands, and by videoconference (for the US Department of State) at Al Quds and Najah Universities in the West Bank.

In 2003, Riley led the Center’s biographical oral history of Washington lawyer Lloyd N. Cutler. He organized and directed, also in 2003, a symposium of former leaders of the White House Congressional Affairs operation, and he helped to organize and carry out, in 2008, a symposium of former White House speechwriters, which was nationally televised on C-SPAN.

Riley graduated from Auburn University in 1983, where he received the Charles P. Anson Award as outstanding student of economics. He subsequently studied at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and then received his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, where he was a research assistant to James Sterling Young at the Miller Center. He subsequently taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown. He helped found Penn’s Washington Semester Program and from 1994 to 1998 was its resident director and a lecturer in American politics. From 1998 to 2000, he was a program director with the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies in Austria, where he organized week-long sessions on topics ranging from racial politics to the evolution of transatlantic relations in the post-Cold War world. He returned to the Miller Center in January 2001.

He has authored or edited six books, including Inside the Clinton White House: An Oral History (Oxford, 2016); Bridging the Constitutional Divide: Inside the White House Office of Legislative Affairs (Texas A&M, 2010); and The Presidency and the Politics of Racial Inequality: Nation-keeping from 1861 to 1965 (Columbia, 1999). The last of those was a finalist for that year’s Neustadt Award as the best book on the presidency. His commentary on American politics has also appeared in the Washington Post, Politico, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and TIME.   


Russell Riley News Feed

As Russell Riley, co-chair of the Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia, would put it two decades later: “Clinton’s victory proved to be so costly to him and to his party that it stands as an enduring cautionary tale in Washington about the political dangers of taking on the issue of gun control.”
Russell Riley Slate
"Inside the Clinton White House," by Miller Center scholar Russell Riley, is a masterful history of the White House told from the perspective of those who were there. Riley has collated countless hours of elite interviewing into a vivid and eminently useful narrative history of the presidency of Bill Clinton.
Russell Riley Cambridge
“I’ve reflected back and simply cannot find another instance in recent American history where a new administration was so wholly committed to reversing the accomplishments of its predecessor,” said Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
Russell Riley The Daily Reveille
Whirlwinds are seldom conducive to clear thinking. Dorothy, for example, encountered a vivid assortment of flamboyantly-dressed little people, irritable trees and flying monkeys along the Yellow Brick Road, all of which seemed to her (and to us, at the time) fantastically real. Then she awoke from that nasty bump to the head. For those of us who study American public life — especially those who specialize in the presidency — it’s been hard to know over the past year whether the political whirlwinds have been having a similar effect on our perceptions of reality.
Russell Riley The Washington Post
According to Russell Riley, the co-chair of the University of Virginia Miller Center's Presidential Oral History Program, though Carter and Trump have completely different personalities and backgrounds, the two political outsiders have more in common than one might think. "You could hardly find two people who ... were more polar opposite than Jimmy Carter and Donald Trump, the Sunday school teacher and the Studio 54 Manhattanite," he said. But when it comes to their treatment by the Washington establishment, "they are sort on the same side."
Russell Riley WJLA
“[Bush] has, as matter of principle, made it a point not to comment on ongoing matters of political interest. I actually heard him in person talk about this,” said Russell Riley, co-chairman of the Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “I think he wouldn’t do this unless he felt obligated to do so.”
Russell Riley Los Angeles Times