Citizen Historian of the Month: Alice Tow
Tell History relies upon a network of dedicated citizen historians to collect important memories–stories that are all around us, but need to be collected, preserved and shared. Every month we recognize one of our amazing citizen historians who makes the effort to save stories and fill the gaps in history.
This month, we celebrate Alice Tow as our Citizen Historian of the Month. As a student and history lover, Alice has been collecting the stories of evacuees–people who escaped the bombing of London during WWII, living in the homes of individuals and families in other parts of Britain. We interviewed the 20-year-old as part of our recognizing him as our Citizen Historian monthly profiles.
Where does your interest in history come from and what inspired you to go deeper into it as a subject?
School history lessons never excited me unfortunately – which is where you would have thought a love for history would have developed. It was when I heard about the concept of oral history that I suddenly felt passionate about uncovering the hidden stories behind historical events. Learning history from a history book is rather impersonal and because of this, we are less likely to learn from history. Instead, gathering personal stories from the people who actually lived through these events will help us to empathize and understand the real consequences of human action, and therefore teach us a whole lot more.
I studied history in school until I was 16. We learnt about World War I and II throughout the entire 5 years I studied it at high school. It would have been more interesting if we had been taught more periods of history. I was more intrigued to learn subjects that involved more personal interpretation… which the subject of History appeared to lack in high school. However, when I came to university to study politics, I took a module in diplomatic history, which opened my eyes to how history can also be a matter of interpretation – particularly when you study historiography.
When I was in primary school, I loved learning about the Tudors and the Egyptians! But in University, I wouldn’t say I have a favourite period of history, but rather a favourite area of history to study – which is historiography. I love studying historiography because it proves that the telling of history is much more political than we would like to think.
You’ve been contributing to Tell History with some amazing stories — where does this motivation come from?
My favourite aspect of Tell History is that its goal is simply to publish people’s stories – and make everyone feel that they have a story to tell. If we continue to let academics to tell history and tell what they think are our experiences, how will generations to come ever know the real truth of the past? History should be told from the bottom up so that the world to come can learn from our experiences – whether they be celebratory or tragic.
In particular you’ve been collecting stories about evacuees from the bombing of London in World War II. Why did you choose to collect these? What has been the impact on you collecting them?
I am collecting these stories because whilst everyone knew that children living in cities were evacuated in World War II, people never hear what happened to those children whilst they were evacuated – and this is something we never seem to ask. Some children might have had great adventures, whilst others may have been treated horrifically by a family who may have not wanted them there in the first place. Other families in the city could not bare to see their family split so stayed together knowing it was more dangerous. These stories should not be ignored – as they show how the war had such tremendous and different impacts on individuals.
What stories would you like to collect, but have not been able to so far? I’d like to record the stories of refugees in the future, as I believe the stories of refugees will be the most valuable resources for humans to learn from in the future.
There are still so many stories I want to collect – but I have no idea what stories there are out there! I just know there are still so many to be told.
I’d like to record the stories of refugees in the future, as I believe the stories of refugees will be the most valuable resources for humans to learn from in the future.
What would you say to someone who was thinking about becoming a citizen historian? Do you have any advice for getting started?
To be a citizen historian – finding and recording the precious stories of people who experienced history first hand, is one of the most rewarding things you can do. By creating an archive of lessons to be learnt by future generations, you are helping the world become a better place.
What surprised me whilst doing these evacuee interviews is that people are very modest about the stories they have – thinking they are irrelevant and unworthy of any sort of publicity. This is so surprising because their stories are funny, interesting and enlightening. Every story is valuable!
Thank you! We appreciate all your work and the fascinating stories about an often-overlooked chapter from World War II.