Michael Fellman Award For Historical Writing Re-Opened

By January 5, 2015Arts/Culture, Books

No winners yet, more submissions invited, criteria clarified for $1,000 prize.

By  Tyee Staff and Contributors, Originally published on 30 Dec 2014, TheTyee.ca

SFU historian Michael Fellman: ‘I disbelieve in heroes, searching as I do to understand the motives and actions of human beings rather than to present stylized paragons of good and evil.’

anal·y·sis noun \ə-ˈna-lə-səs\

1: a careful study of something to learn about its parts, what they do, and how they are related to each other
2: an explanation of the nature and meaning of something

Keep this definition in mind when submitting articles to the Michael Fellman Award for Historical Writing, OK? Because analysis is one of the key elements here, especially that second part: “an explanation of the nature and meaning of something.”

We’re emphasizing this now because we’ve yet to find a piece that fits the criteria for this $1,000 prize that honours the late Michael Fellman, a popular and brilliant historian from Simon Fraser University.

So, we’re re-opening the submission period for another month.

What are the criteria? We’re hoping to find an unpublished piece of accessible writing that demonstratesbold thought, clear analysis, rests on a deep historical understanding to help unpack an issue relevant to contemporary progressive readers.

In short, the kind of essay Michael Fellman used to publish in these pages regularly. His topics ranged from U.S. election coverage to unfolding Canadian politics to deconstructions of Clint Eastwood’s films. Yours can, too. (View all Fellman’s Tyee work here.)

To submit, send by email the submission (PDF or MSWord) to editor@thetyee. Subject line: “Michael Fellman Award, 2014”.

Let’s break this down a bit be perfectly clear. The winning entry is going to have most, if not all, of these elements:

Spirit of public engagement. The piece must be about an issue of broad and current public interest.

Accessible writing. What good is historical analysis couched in the passive, inscrutable voice of the academy? The piece should be written in a lively, engaging, accessible style.

Bold thought. Clear analysis. Historical understanding. The piece has to connect the dots of history to the events of today to create a picture that helps us better see our present world and the challenges we face.

Want an example? No problem…

Last year, historian Christopher Phelps won for his piece, “Trayvon’s Legacy: How Diversity Hides Racism.” In it, he explored how in a land where there’s a president of African-American descent could the man who killed Trayvon Martin be found not guilty of murder.

Phelps argued that the market-individualist ideology that developed along with or soon after the civil rights movement created an illusory “race blindness” that reactionary, neoliberal forces used to marginalize anyone attempting to tackle the structural racism embedded into the fabric of North American capitalism.

“If [Martin Luther] King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech emphasized law and attitude,” Phelps wrote, “his broader career indicates that his unfinished agenda is more structural, economic and social. Race is sunk in ‘hood and ‘burb, in property values and school district boundaries, in wage differentials and portfolios, and in credit ratings and loan rates.”

Why did it win?

Because it elegantly wove together a subtle and complex argument with a deep understanding of two divergent historical threads — the civil rights movement and neoliberal capitalism — to help explain a pressing issue in both the United States and Canada, one that is plays out nightly on the streets of Ferguson, MO, and New York City and on the nightly news.

And, as you can see, the piece was not necessarily about specifically and exclusively Canadian issues but Phelps made sure to tie the dynamic to similar dynamics here in Canada.


NEW Deadline: Feb. 1, 2015.

Winner selected: Feb. 16, 2015.

Length: Less than 2,500 words.

To submit, send by email the submission (PDF or MSWord) to editor@thetyee. Subject line: “Michael Fellman Award, 2014”.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What if my article isn’t about Canada?

A: Is it a perspective that The Tyee’s audience of progressive readers might find interesting? Does it fit much of the other criteria above? Great. Then we’d love to consider it.

Q: What if my article was published in an academic journal?

A: Is it written to be accessible to the public at-large? Does it fit much of the other criteria above? Great. Send it along. If not, consider rewriting it for a broad audience.

Q: What if my article was published in a small publication with limited circulation?

A: We’ll assess these on a case-by-case basis.

To submit, send by email the submission (PDF or MSWord) to editor@thetyee. Subject line: “Michael Fellman Award, 2014”.

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