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 the White Burkett Miller Center Professor of Ethics and Institutions. He 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 Presidential 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 PhD 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

“There are two large groups of voters in the United States today when it comes to the domestic protests: people who want the president to stop the rage and people who want the president to solve the issues that have created the rage," said Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
Russell Riley, Mara Rudman The Washington Post
The archivist of the United States, Colleen Shogan, joins Miller Center experts to discuss the importance of preserving presidential records and making them accessible to the public, highlighting the fundamental role that transparency plays in a healthy democracy.

Shogan joins Russell Riley, co-chair of the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program and White Burkett Miller Center Professor of Ethics and Institutions, in a conversation moderated by Barbara Perry, co-chair of the Presidential Oral History Program and Gerald L. Baliles Professor in Presidential Studies.
Barbara Perry, Marc Selverstone, and Russell Riley Miller Center Presents
Charles O. Jones rose to prominence in political science as an expert on the U.S. Congress – the subject he first taught me at the University of Virginia. But over time he expanded the scope of his influence and became perhaps the nation’s preeminent student of Washington’s political institutions.
Russell Riley, Kathryn Dunn Tenpas Good Authority
The president has enjoyed historically low turnover among his department heads. But historians debate whether that's always a good thing.
Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, Russell Riley National Journal
“The fact that one state court has seen fit to rule this way suggests that the logic could be strong enough for this to happen,” presidential historian Russell Riley said in statements to EL PAÍS. “That logic is simple: anyone shown to be cavalier with the oath of office should not be entrusted to abide by that solemn oath in the future.”
Russell Riley El Pais
The pro-Palestinian protesters, meanwhile, don’t just follow Biden around. They have been disrupting public ceremonies across the country, sparring with police, and assaulting counter-protesters. “If the protests endure or escalate, they will draw more attention to problems that this White House — any White House — is ill-powered to fix,” presidential historian Russell Riley told the Post.
Russell Riley Commentary