John E. O'Connor Film Award
In recognition of his exceptional role as a pioneer in both teaching and research regarding film and history, the American Historical Association has established this award in honor of John E. O’Connor, New Jersey Institute of Technology. The honorific award seeks to recognize outstanding interpretations of history through the medium of film or video and may be awarded in each of two categories: Dramatic Feature and Documentary.
This award is presented in the form of a certificate. Award winners will be screened at the AHA's annual meeting, if appropriate permissions can be obtained. One person associated with each winning film will be invited to host the screening. See the list of past recipients.
Nominated films and videos will be assessed according to the following criteria:
- Stimulation of Interest in History: The production should arouse interest in the past and encourage viewers to ask questions about historical interpretations.
- Imaginative Use of the Media: The production should provide a unique perspective on the past through compelling use of aural and visual techniques and narrative structure. Successful nominees may take a wide variety of approaches to the past, including innovative presentational approaches beyond the traditional linear narrative.
- Effective Presentation of Historical Subject: The production should communicate its subject in ways that engage and enlighten viewers and encourage them to seek additional insights through reading and other media. It should be informed by trends in recent historical scholarship and make a contribution, in its own right, to the public’s understanding of and appreciation for history.
- Dramatic feature and documentary films and videos (including web-based) will be considered for the award.
- Films or videos must be in English or have English-language subtitles or dubbing.
- Films or videos must have been copyrighted or first screened or broadcast in 2016 to be eligible for the 2017 award.
- Films and videos should be no longer than feature length. If the nomination is for a series, then one episode only shall be nominated and considered by the prize committee. If that episode is determined to win the prize in either Documentary or Dramatic Feature categories, then the prize will be awarded to that episode only. The series as a whole to which the episode belongs shall be acknowledged in the award announcement.
- AHA members will nominate films and videos through the Member Forum on AHA Communities by May 15. The committee may also seek nominations or receive nominations from filmmakers, film critics, and the general public.
- Filmmakers should send nominations to email@example.com and must submit one copy of each entry in DVD or a free and universally accessible online streaming format to each of the committee members. In the case of web-based videos with free access, functioning URLs must be provided.
- The review committee will only consider a film for which a screening copy can be obtained free of charge.
- Nominations must specify the category—Documentary or Dramatic Feature—for which the film should be considered.
- Entries will not be returned.
Recipients will be announced on the AHA website in October 2017 and recognized during a ceremony at the January 2018 AHA annual meeting in Washington, DC.
For questions, please contact the Prize Administrator.
The deadline for this year’s submissions has passed. Review committee contact information and the prize submission form for the next prize year will be posted by March 31.
2015 O’Connor Film Award
Dramatic Feature: 12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen, director; Brad Pitt, producer (Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2013)
With this breakthrough production the filmmakers and actors have adapted an important historical source, Solomon Northrup’s 1853 memoir of kidnapping and enslavement, into a gripping and also painfully accurate drama. In step with the best historical scholarship, this film also challenges Hollywood’s long romance with the plantation.
Documentary: Ghosts of Amistad: In the Footsteps of the Rebels
Tony Buba, director; Marcus Rediker, producer (Univ. of Pittsburgh, 2014)
Ghosts of Amistad documents historian Marcus Rediker’s road trip through Sierra Leone, listening to the African side of slavery’s living past, to find traces of memory about the 1839 Amistad mutiny. Through innovative oral history methods and factual sleuthing, the filmmakers present a compelling portrait of historians at work in today’s world.