Ritchie, Donald A. 1945–

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Ritchie, Donald A. 1945–

(Donald Arthur Ritchie)

PERSONAL: Born December 23, 1945, in New York, NY; son of Arthur V. and Jeannette (Kromm) Ritchie; married Patricia A. Cooper, July 14, 1973 (divorced, 1986); married Anne Glackin Campbell, June 20, 1988; children: (second marriage) Jennifer Campbell Reid, Andrea Campbell (stepdaughters). Education: City College of the City University of New York, B.A., 1967; University of Maryland at College Park, M.A., 1969, Ph.D., 1975.

ADDRESSES: Home—6033 Avon Dr., Bethesda, MD 20814. Office—Senate Historical Office, 201 Hart Senate Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20510-7108.

CAREER: Writer and historian. University of Maryland at College Park, instructor in history, 1974–76; Northern Virginia Community College, Alexandria, VA, instructor in history, 1975; George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, instructor in history, 1976; U.S. Senate, Washington, DC, associate historian at Senate Historical Office, 1976–; Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Lecturer, Historical Society of Washington, Washington, DC, 1990; Cornell-in-Washington Program, adjunct assistant professor, 1990–2000. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, 1969–71.

MEMBER: American Historical Association (chair of congressional fellowship committee, 1982–84; council member, 1992–96), National Council on Public History (chair of nominating committee, 1994–95), Organization of American Historians (member of nominating committee, 1985–87; chair of committee on research and access to historical documentation, 1993), Oral History Association (president, 1986–87), Society for History in the Federal Government (council member, 1989–91), International Oral History Association (council member, 2004–06).

AWARDS, HONORS: Forrest C. Pogue Award, Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region, 1984; Henry Adams Prize, Society for History in the Federal Government, 1992, for Press Gallery; Richard W. Leopold Prize, Organization of American Historians, 1992, for Press Gallery.


(Editor) Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Historical Series), Volumes VIII-XV, U.S. Government Printing Office (Washington, DC), 1978–93.

James M. Landis: Dean of the Regulators, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1980.

Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1991.

The Young Oxford Companion to the Congress of the United States, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1993.

History of a Free Nation (high school textbook), Glencoe (New York, NY), 1994.

Doing Oral History, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1994.

American Journalists: Getting the Story, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.

The Oxford Essential Guide to the U.S. Government, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 2000.

The Congress of the United States: A Student Companion, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2002.

The American Republic (high school textbook), Glencoe (New York, NY), 2003.

The American Vision (high school textbook), Glencoe (New York, NY), 2005.

Our Constitution: What It Says, What It Means, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Reporting from Washington: The History of the Washington Press Corps, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Our Constitution, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to history journals. Editor of Maryland Historian, 1972–73. Editor of "Oral History Series," Twayne (Boston, MA), 1988–98.

Also editor, Executive Session of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (Joseph R. McCarthy Hearings, 83rd Congress, 1953–54), Government Printing Office, 2003.

SIDELIGHTS: Author and public historian Donald A. Ritchie is an associate historian in the U.S. Senate Historical Office. He is the author of a number of works on U.S. government structure and history, as well as the history of the association between journalists and government. Ritchie is also author of a seminal work on the methods and techniques of oral history. Doing Oral History is a practical manual on how to conduct an oral history project, noted John J. Fox in Oral History Review. In addition to a brief history and overview of the field, Ritchie also outlines real-world techniques for planning and starting a project, conducting interviews, videotaping subjects, preserving materials gathered during field work, teaching oral history, and presenting oral history. He also includes helpful materials such as sample legal forms and releases, ethical standards, and bibliographies. "Ritchie makes no pretense that any one of his answers is the only possible one," Fox observed. "Nevertheless, there is no doubt that he believes that his answers are on target and will provide proper guidance. And he is right."

Ritchie "intends the book to be a practicum, and it is; he ventures only rarely and tentatively into the realm of the theoretical, and when he does so, his aim is to illustrate a point of technique," commented Joel R. Gardner in Oral History Review. The book is "simple, straightforward, and effective," Gardner stated. Doing Oral History "is indeed a guide to practice," Gardner noted, "but it is much more: it is a stepping-off point into the increasingly large universe that oral history practitioners occupy."

American Journalists: Getting the Story, contains biographies of almost sixty journalists who practiced their craft from approximately 1700 to the present day. The book includes journalists based on their level of fame, the impact they had on society and their profession, and how well they represent the era in which they worked. Reviewer Carl Sessions Stepp, writing in American Journalism Review, called the volume a "marvelous book." Stepp observed that "Ritchie's writing is clear and direct; he has a wonderful eye for the stray detail that fixes someone's character; and he balances both an ingenuous reverence for newspeople and an unsparing candor about their imperfections." Ritchie's subjects include the famous, such as Horace Greeley, Ida Tarbell, William Randolph Hearst, Edward R. Murrow, Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein. He also profiles numerous journalists whose names are lesser known, including Civil War correspondent Lawrence Gobright; Abraham Cahan, who was in charge of the influential Jewish Daily Forward for more than fifty years; Cherokee Phoenix founder Elias Boudinot; and Jane Grey Swisshelm, whose reporting had severe political consequences for Daniel Webster. Booklist reviewer Margaret Flanagan remarked that "this lively collective biography also doubles as an invaluable introduction to the evolution of American journalism." The book is "journalism history with a human heartbeat," Stepp concluded.

The Congress of the United States: A Student Companion provides a wealth of background information and detail on Congress for students in junior high school and up. The book offers comprehensive coverage of the institutional structure of Congress, the procedures for creating and amending laws, and how Congress functions. Ritchie covers important terms, such as censure and filibuster; Congressional leadership; the representation of minorities in Congress; the traditions of Congress; historically important legislation and actions of Congress; election of Congressional representatives; and much more. School Library Journal contributor Joyce Adams Burner called the book "excellent for research" purposes. Mary Mueller, also writing in the School Library Journal, remarked that "the comprehensive coverage and clear writing will provide answers to virtually any question that young researchers may have about the Congress."

Reporting from Washington: The History of the Washington Press Corps examines in depth the development of journalism in Washington, DC, from 1932 to the present day. Using a variety of documentary sources ranging from oral histories to presidential papers to newspaper and broadcast archives, Ritchie covers "almost every issue relevant to the growth and change of American media in the modern era," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. He addresses topics such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt's innovation in the use of radio to communicate with the American people; Joseph McCarthy's exploitation of the Washington Press Corps in his political aspirations; the role of the press in uncovering the scandals and corruption of the Nixon White House; racial integration of the press corps; the rise and prominence of news wire services; the influence of opinion columnists; the growth and expansion of television and cable news networks; and the current status of press in the War on Terror and in the context of a post-9/11 world. He also looks carefully at the ever-evolving impact of the Internet on news gathering and reporting. He includes material on some of Washington's prominent reporters and controversial personalities, including Katharine Graham, Walter Lippmann, and Matt Drudge.

Nieman Reports contributor James McCartney remarked: "Ritchie provides a great deal of the history of the Washington press corps, much of it fascinating and certainly well documented." However, McCartney also criticized Reporting from Washington because it did not "examine why the Washington press corps often fails and why it matters when they do." McCartney stated that "even a well documented and well written selective history, as Ritchie has produced, doesn't help readers to understand how the game is played and why Washington reporters often fail." Still, McCartney concluded: "Ritchie's book is excellent in what it does and in the areas it seeks to explore." Ritchie "presents a rich perspective on the people who write the first draft of history," the journalists who covered, investigated, and when necessary, broke the bad news about the powerful in Washington, observed Booklist reviewer Vanessa Bush.

Ritchie told CA: "While researching in the manuscript collection of James M. Landis, a leading regulatory adviser to presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and John F. Kennedy, I discovered the last thirty pages of an oral history interview that Landis had given shortly before his death. Further hunting located the complete seven-hundred-page manuscript at the Columbia Oral History Office. This was a magnificent find for a biographer: the subject's life in his own words. Even relatively well-known facts and incidents took on a new immediacy when presented in the first person, but, although the oral history illuminated Landis's long career as a lawyer, dean of the Harvard Law School, and government official, it revealed little about his private life. He made almost no mention of his two marriages, his children, or the income tax delinquency that eventually sent him to jail. I began to conduct my own interviews, with Landis's family, friends, colleagues, and even his psychiatrist. These oral histories significantly influenced my writing of the biography.

"I carried my interest in oral history to the Senate Historical Office, where I conduct interviews with former senators and members of the Senate staff. Oral history also influenced my writing of a high school textbook, History of a Free Nation. Using first-person accounts helped to enliven the narrative and to capture the attention of adolescents. After speaking about oral history at various conferences and workshops, I compiled my recommendations into an introductory guidebook, Doing Oral History.

"Conducting interviews raised my curiosity about other professional interviewers, particularly the journalists who regularly call the Senate Historical Office for information. Their requests made me aware of the working conditions under which journalists operate—particularly their reliance on oral rather than written sources. This led to Press Gallery, a study of how Washington correspondents historically gathered and reported news of the federal government to the general public."

In a review in the New York Times, George F. Will described Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents as "sometimes startling, sometimes dismaying and constantly illuminating…. [Ritchie] is a scrupulous historian whose fine book brings back the powerful aroma of a past too raw to be romanticized. Thus does memory help reconcile us to current discontents."



Howe, Barbara J., and Emory L. Kemp, editors, Public History: An Introduction, Robert E. Krieger, 1986.


American Journalism Review, March, 1998, Carl Sessions Stepp, review of American Journalists: Getting the Story, p. 51.

Booklist, March 15, 1994, Deborah Abbott, review of The Young Oxford Companion to the Congress of the United States, p. 1340B; February 15, 1998, Margaret Flanagan, review of American Journalists, p. 950; February 15, 2005, Vanessa Bush, review of Reporting from Washington: The History of the Washington Press Corps, p. 1038.

New York Times, June 30, 1991, George F. Will, review of Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents, p. 7.

Nieman Reports, fall, 2005, James McCartney, "Probing the Successes and Failures of the Washington Press Corps: 'Great Reporting in Washington is about Cutting through the Bureaucratic Maze,'" review of Reporting from Washington, p. 99.

Oral History Review, winter, 1996, Joel R. Gardner, review of Doing Oral History, p. 138; summer-fall, 1998, John J. Fox, review of Doing Oral History, p. 119.

Publishers Weekly, January 31, 2005, review of Reporting from Washington, p. 57.

School Library Journal, May, 2002, Mary Mueller, review of The Congress of the United States: A Student Companion, p. 98; August, 2004, Joyce Adams Burner, review of The Congress of the United States, p. 50.


Organization of American Historians Web site, http://www.oah.org/ (January 1, 2006), biography of Donald A. Ritchie.