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Recognizing the Best in Public History

An image of Corridor 3 at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice (Photo credit: Equal Justice Initiative ∕ Human Pictures)

Corridor 3 – The National Memorial for Peace and Justice (Photo credit: Equal Justice Initiative ∕ Human Pictures)

For the first time ever, BackStory is acknowledging the work of other public history projects with a prize. The BackStory Prize recognizes excellence in public history – work that is often discounted or overlooked because it occurs outside of academia. Exhibitions, musicals, books, paintings, films and podcasts were all eligible. Buildings and other structures, like museums and monuments, also made the list.

Nominees had to satisfy two criteria: great history that reached the widest possible audience and a project that published or debuted within the 12 months (give or take) before the judging in October 2018.

BackStory lead researcher Monica Blair created the list, thinking broadly about historical mediums, both physical and digital. In addition to online reviews, she looked up reviews in academic journals like “The Public Historian” and general newspapers like “The Washington Post.” For books, she turned to “The New York Times” Non-Fiction Bestsellers List and for podcasts, she used Apple Podcasts charts. Each nominee fell under a broadly conceived definition of American history.

BackStory’s hosts, Ed Ayers, Brian Balogh, Nathan Connolly and Joanne Freeman along with Senior Producer David Stenhouse were joined by guest judges Chris Jackson (“Hamilton” on Broadway) and Margot Lee Shetterly (“Hidden Figures”) to review the nominees and to determine the best project. After rigorous debate, they unanimously declared The National Memorial for Peace and Justice – Equal Justice Initiative the winner. Listen to “The BackStory Prize” episode to hear more about the nomination process and how the judges arrived at their decision.

Here is the full list of nominees:

Films

The Post

Darkest Hour

First They Killed My Father

Detroit

Chappaquiddick

Mudbound

First Man

White Boy Rick

BlacKkKlansman

Final Portrait

Battle of the Sexes

A Prayer Before Dawn

The Old Man and the Gun

American Animals

Green Book (released November 2018, but debuted at TIFF)

The Front Runner (U.S. release November 2018, but already out in Canada)

Documentaries

Human Flow

RBG

The King

The Final Year

Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat

Whose Streets? An Unflinching Look at the Ferguson Uprising

Rachel Carson: The Woman Who Launched the Modern Environmental Movement

The Rise and Fall of the Brown Buffalo

The Mayo Clinic: Faith, Hope and Science, Ken Burns

More Than a Word: Native American-Based Sports Names

American Socialist: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs

The Vietnam War: A Series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities

John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?

They Shall Not Grow Old

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

Tower

Cuba and the Cameraman

Birth of a Movement

Podcasts

A12: The Story of Charlottesville, Nicole Hemmer

Ben Franklin’s World, Omohundro Institute

The Age of Jackson, Daniel N. Gullotta

The Age of Victoria, Chris Fernandez-Packham

The Story, The Mission Podcasts

The Way I Heard It with Mike Rowe

Revisionist History Season 3, Malcolm Gladwell

The New York City Public Library Podcasts

The Memory Palace, Nate DiMeo

Slow Burn: A Podcast about Watergate, Leon Neyfakh for Slate Plus

American History Tellers, Wondery

Stuff You Missed in History Class

Letters From War, the Washington Post

Witness, BBC

Uncivil, Gimlet Media

The Most Wonderful Wonder, Holly and Jeremy Hall

The History Chicks, Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider

Scene on Radio: Seeing White Series, John Biewen

DIG, Averill Earls, Sarah Handley-Cousins, Marissa C. Rhodes, and Elizabeth Garner Masarik

Our Fake History, Sebastian Major and Beth Lorimer

Historium Unearthia, Crystal Ponti

You Must Remember This, Karina Longworth for Panopoly

Stories: A History of Appalachia

Plays

American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Antigone in Ferguson

Come From Away

Fireflies

Gloria: A Life

Lewiston/Clarkston

Days of Rage

Books

The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis

Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics by Kim Phillips-Fein

Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America by Steven J. Ross

Implacable Foes: War in the Pacific, 1944-1945 by Waldo Heinrichs and Marc Gallicchio

God’s Red Son: The Ghost Dance Religion and the Making of Modern America by Louis S. Warren

Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England by Douglas L. Winiarski

These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore

The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels by Jon Meacham

Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Exhibits & Monuments both Physical and Digital

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice – Equal Justice Initiative

The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration – Equal Justice Initiative

The Mere Distinction of Colour – James Madison’s Montpelier 

Confinement in the Land of Enchantment: Japanese Americans in New Mexico during World War II – Public Lands History Center 

Daguerreotypes: Five Decades of Collecting – National Portrait Gallery

Walker Evans – San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Cult of the Machine – the de Young Museum, part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow – New York Historical Society Museum and Library

Henry James and the American Painting – The Morgan Library and Museum

Torn Apart/Separados – Mobilized Humanities

Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights – Taylor C. Bye, Kathryn B. Carpenter, Samantha Hollingsworth, Leah Palmer, Kevin Ploth, and Jennifer Tufts

Uneven Ground: The Foundations of Housing Inequality in Durham, NC – Bull City 150

Refugee or Refusal: Turning Points in U.S. Immigration History – Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University

Monumental: Richmond’s Monuments (1607-2018) – The Valentine

Baseball Americana – Library of Congress

Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists – Library of Congress

Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I – Library of Congress

1917: How One Year Changed the World – National Museum of American Jewish History

Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music – National Museum of American Jewish History

The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center

Take a Stand Center; the Abe & Ida Cooper Survivor Stories Experience – Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center

Stories of Survival: Object, Image, Memory – Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center

Censorship and Information Control During Information Revolutions – University of Chicago

Frederick Douglas AGITATOR – American Writers Museum

Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission – National Air and Space Museum

Artist Soldiers: Artistic Expression in the First World War – National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History

Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II – National Museum of American History

The American Revolution: A World War – National Museum of American History

City of Hope: Resurrection City & the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign – National Museum of African American History and Culture

Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture – National Museum of African American History and Culture

Museum of the American Revolution

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