Experts

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

 

Russell Riley is on research leave until the Fall 2022 semester.

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 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

“The difference frankly between being an academic and being a policymaker is you all of a sudden have to put your money where your mouth is,” she was quoted as saying in Russell Riley’s “Inside the Clinton White House: An Oral History.”
Russell Riley POLITICO
Trump, COVID, Putin: Five-letter words are the new four-letter word. (Those objecting to Trump’s inclusion here are free to substitute the current president’s name instead—merely confirming the point.) Whether or not one formally subscribes to televangelist Pat Robertson’s interpretation that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is evidence that the Book of Revelation is unfolding before our very eyes, there is an undeniable End of Times feel to the daily newspapers—causing most of us to mutter inventive forms of profanity each time we check the headlines. Scatology recapitulates eschatology.
Russell Riley Miller Center Russia-Ukraine blog
“The circumstances of the moment give him a bully pulpit, and this doesn’t happen all that often,” says Russell Riley, co-chair of the Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “If you’re looking for pivot moments in a presidency that’s had its share of difficulties, this creates the predicate for that kind of historic moment.”
Russell Riley The Christian Science Monitor
The nomination process of the late Justice Ginsburg teaches us the importance of patience—and basketball.
The Hill
Few people have risen to the presidency better prepared than Joe Biden. And yet, when he took the oath of office in January, he had exactly as much experience exercising presidential powers as the most inexperienced of his predecessors: none. 
The Hill
“First years are problematic for presidents,” says presidential historian Russell Riley of the University of Virginia. “There’s a tendency to a kind of innocent arrogance in the early part of an administration. You think that because you succeeded in winning the White House, your judgment is golden.”
Russell Riley The Christian Science Monitor