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Eastern State Penitentiary Wins 2020 AASLH Awards

Eastern State Penitentiary Wins 2020 AASLH History in Progress Award and Award of Excellence

May 28, 2020

Philadelphia, PA (May 28, 2020) – Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is the proud recipient of a 2020 American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) History in Progress (HIP) Award and Award of Excellence for its 2019 project, Hidden Lives Illuminated. The AASLH Leadership in History Awards, now in its 75th year, is the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

The HIP Award, given at the discretion of a committee, is an additional award for an Award of Excellence winner whose nomination is highly inspirational, exhibits exceptional scholarship, and/or is exceedingly entrepreneurial in terms of funding, partnerships, or collaborations, creative problem solving, or unusual project design and inclusiveness. Only 5% or fewer of the total number of Award of Excellence winners can be given the HIP Award.

AASLH awarded these honors to Eastern State Penitentiary in recognition of the historic site’s recent project, Hidden Lives Illuminated. The month-long series in summer 2019 featured nightly screenings of newly commissioned, animated short films created by currently incarcerated artists living in Pennsylvania correctional institutions. Using a concert-grade digital projector, a total of 20 films were screened onto a 20-by-30-foot area of Eastern State’s façade, offering a rare look inside America’s correctional system, conceived, narrated, and animated by people who are incarcerated.

The AASLH awards program was initiated in 1945 to establish and encourage standards of excellence in the collection, preservation, and interpretation of state and local history throughout the United States. The AASLH Leadership in History Awards not only honor significant achievement in the field of state and local history, but also bring public recognition of the opportunities for small and large organizations, institutions, and programs to make contributions in this arena. For more information about the Leadership in History Awards, contact AASLH at 615-320-3203, or go to

About AASLH:
The American Association for State and Local History is a not-for-profit professional organization of individuals and institutions working to preserve and promote history. From its headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, AASLH provides leadership, service, and support for its members who preserve and interpret state and local history in order to make the past more meaningful to all people. AASLH publishes books, technical publications, a quarterly magazine, and maintains numerous affinity communities and committees serving a broad range of constituents across the historical community. The association also sponsors an annual meeting, regional and national training in-person workshops, and online training.

About Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site:
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site interprets the legacy of American criminal justice reform, from the nation’s founding through to the present day, within the long-abandoned cellblocks of the nation’s most historic prison.

Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world's first true "penitentiary," a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells held approximately 80,000 men and women during its 142 years of operation, including bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone.

In recent years, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site has been awarded the prestigious Excellence in Exhibitions award by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the nation’s highest award in exhibition development and design, for its exhibit Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, as well as the Institutional Award for Special Achievement from the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and the Trustee Emeritus Award for Stewardship from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Returning Citizens Tour Guide Project, which hires people who were formerly incarcerated to lead tours of the historic site, has won the EdCom Award for Innovation in Museum Education by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and has been featured internationally by such networks as the BBC and others.

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Hidden Lives Illuminated has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.


2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner