AHA explains why film reviews have been suspended at the AHR

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We at the American Historical Review have decided on a change of policy on reviewing films; our intention is to replace individual film reviews with extended review essays on films of historical interest. What is the source of this change? What kinds of review essays are we seeking?

The American Historical Review has been reviewing films of historical interest on a regular basis since 1988. An AHR Forum in the December issue of that year, introduced by Robert A. Rosenstone, examined "the problems and possibilities of portraying history on film" ("In This Issue," p. iv) and included extended comments by David Herlihy, Hayden White, John E. O'Connor, and Robert Brent Toplin. Thereafter, one issue a year featured a section of reviews by historians of films, both documentary and feature, from around the world. The reviews were organized according to continent, with a pretty fair global distribution. Rosenstone edited this annual feature until 1995, when it was taken over by Thomas Prasch. Two years later, in 1997, there was another shift: film reviews were placed after the "Reviews of Books" section, and they were no longer organized geographically. This new placement, as well as the change in layout and type size, seemed to indicate a desire on the part of the editors to treat films in the same manner as books, a view that was confirmed when, in 2004, film reviews were merged into the book review section, which was renamed "Reviews of Books and Films." Throughout this period, the AHR reviewed between 25 and 30 films a year, sometimes more, sometimes fewer. In recent years, there seems to have been a significant decline in the number reviewed (only 17 films were reviewed in 2003, 15 in 2004, and 18 in 2005). Beyond these, there have been occasional AHR Forums and articles addressing specific films of historical interest, especially those that have provoked public discussion, such as Oliver Stone's JFK, Spike Lee's Malcolm X, and Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan.

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