Public History Prize Winner 2021

The Social History Society’s Public History Prize recognises activities that enhance public understanding of social and cultural history. It was established in 2020 to thank our outgoing chair, Professor Pamela Cox, for her tireless efforts to open dialogue between the society and different audiences.

The prize is awarded to a postgraduate student or an early career researcher who can demonstrate excellence in taking their research beyond the academy.

Our 2021 prize recognises activity undertaken during a year defined by COVID-19 and the judges were impressed by the creative ways that entrants had responded to the pandemic, lockdowns and distancing measures.


The winner of the 2021 Public History Prize is Dr Alice Sage for the project and online exhibition ‘Photographing Fairies’.

Alice Sage’s PhD research analyses fairy stories in representations of childhood in early twentieth century Britain. Her thesis used the famous Cottingley Fairy Photographs to contextualise the experience of a group of children in East London. This public history project was designed to delve deeper into the Cottingley hoax.

The project was conceived as a physical exhibition, but was transformed by the demands of lockdown. The final outcome was an participatory project with girls and non-binary young people, an online exhibition hosted by Stills Centre for Photography and an illustrated book. The project was delivered alongside the artist Morwenna Kearsley.

You can read more about Alice’s project in a blog she has written for our Community Exchange.

The judges said:

Alice Sage’s project showed how cutting edge social and cultural history can be reinterpreted through collaboration with an audience. We were struck by the way she treated young people as co-creators and used their interpretation to make her PhD research relevant to contemporary issues.”

Alice said that she was motivated by finding out what young people thought about the themes of her research and though hat the backdrop of COVID had led to a stronger project overall:

It really brought out why these images are relevant and how Elsie [Wright] and Frances [Griffiths, the cousins who staged the photographs] were making images as a response to a crisis, which is exactly what we were doing.”

The online exhibition runs until 19 August 2021 at stills.org/fairies.

You can watch our interview with Alice below.