On December 29, 1970, John E. O’Connor and Martin A. Jackson founded the Historians Film Committee, with the intent to begin publishing a journal on film and its relation to history. They published the following statement:
“The Historians Film Committee exists to further the use of film sources in teaching and research, to disseminate information about film and film use to historians and other social scientists, to work for an effective system of film preservation so that scholars may have ready access to film archives, and to organize periodic conferences and seminars dealing with film. A journal of film and social sciences will be established at the earliest practicable date in order to facilitate the exchange of information among scholars and others concerned with film. Efforts will be made to contact interested scholars in other social-science organizations with a view toward creating a common association of film researchers. Similarly, contacts will be maintained with foreign scholars concerned with film use.”
The “journal of film and social sciences” that the Committee named Film & History began publication in early 1971: a modest stapled quarterly initially devoted to book and film reviews, news related to film and film preservation, and “Source Notes” that collated important information about film archives, sources of prints, and other essential tools of the film scholar’s trade. Longer articles made their appearance later: pedagogical advice like “Making Multi-Media Lectures for Classroom Use” (1971), overviews like “Feature Films and the American Revolution: A Bicentennial Reappraisal” (1975), and close studies like “Document and Drama in Desert Victory” (1974). American subjects, and Hollywood productions, dominated the pages of the journal, but foreign films and perspectives were a constant presence: Britain, France, and Germany, but also Poland, Cuba, Brazil, and South Africa, among many others.
Film scholars such as Thomas Doherty, Anthony Aldgate, Lawrence Suid, James Welsh, and Peter Rollins appeared regularly in the pages of Film & History. Scholars better known for their work with more conventional historical sources also published there: Karen Kupperman on the first encounters between Europeans and Native Americans in Roanoke, Barton C. Hacker on U. S. government documentaries of atomic bomb tests, and Denise Youngblood on the social history of the USSR. A decade after its founding, Film & History was well on its way to achieving its initial purpose of being a meeting ground for film and the social sciences.
After nearly 50 years of publication, Film & History has evolved as the field it represented has grown and as new technologies have revolutionized both the study of film and the use of it in the classroom. Quarterly gave way to biennial publication in the 1990s, creating the flexibility to publish substantial thematic issues on subjects ranging from the cultural grammar of Star Trek to the images of the Native American. The “Indian” issue gave rise, in turn, to Hollywood’s Indian, first in an acclaimed series of thematic volumes on film and history edited by O’Connor and Rollins. The turn of the millennium saw the first Film & History conferences, which drew together scholars from across the globe and gave rise to thematic issues, and edited collections, of their own.
When the American Historical Association established the John E. O’Connor Film Award in 1993, it recognized John’s pioneering role in enhancing scholarship, research, and production in history, film, and the visual image as forms of evidence. Nearing its 50-year anniversary, Film & History has become a peer-reviewed academic journal that now serves a global readership.
The current editor-in-chief, Loren PQ Baybrook (PhD, University of Virginia), comes to Film & History with a background in film studies, literary theory, and American poetry. He is Visiting Professor of Film Studies at Lawrence University. A former NEH Fellow at Harvard University, Baybrook joins an august team of scholars and teachers at F&H dedicated to exploring the historical, philosophical, aesthetic, and pedagogical roles of film, television, and new media in diverse cultures.