Mass Observation was founded in 1937 by three young men to study the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain. It sought to bridge the gap between how the media represented public opinion and what ordinary people actually felt and thought. A team of observers recorded people’s behaviour and a panel of volunteer writers either kept diaries or replied to open-ended questionnaires. The material collected forms an important picture of everyday life, popular culture and ordinary people’s actions, attitudes and opinions from the 1930s to the 1950s.
Mass Observation Online includes file reports, photos, diaries, personal letters, surveys and more.
Topic collections include: the September 1946 exhibition held at the Victoria & Albert Museum “Britain Can Make It”; Household Budgeting; Capital Punishment; Dreams; Drinking Habits; Famous Persons; Film; Gambling; Juvenile Delinquency; Korea; Peace & the Public; Posters; Radio Listening; Reading Habits; Religion; Smoking Habits; Victory Celebrations; and World Outlook.
The most famous of the diaries in the archive is Nella Last’s War which was first published in 1981 and gained national recognition following its adaptation for TV in 2006 as Housewife, 49, by Victoria Wood.
The Mass Observation archive is kept at the University of Sussex but most of the material is available to you via Mass Observation Online via the Electronic Library and the library catalogue.
The content of this archive is extensive, the level of description enthralling and it will fascinate scholars across the disciplines as well as the plain old curious amongst us.
Don’t forget that if you need help using this resource or any other library resources then your Subject Librarian will be happy to help. Find out more on our Subject Guides page.