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Mass Observation - Recording everyday life in Britain

A brief history

Book cover of Britain by Mass Observation
Britain by Mass Observation
Photo  of photographer from the Worktown collection
Photo from the Worktown collection, taken in Bolton

Origins of Mass Observation, 1937-50s

The Archive results from the work of the social research organisation, Mass Observation. This organisation was founded in 1937 by a group of people, who aimed to create an 'anthropology of ourselves'. They recruited a team of observers and a panel of volunteer writers to study the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain. This original work continued until the early 1950s. Find out more about the original Mass Observation project.

The Archive at the University of Sussex, 1970

In 1970, the Archive came to the University of Sussex and was opened up as a public resource for historical research. The Archive holds all the material generated by Mass Observation between 1937 and 1949, with a few later additions from the 1950s and 1960s.The Archive is nowa charitable trust in the care of the University. It is housed at The Keep as part of the University's Special Collections.

The Mass Observation Project

The original Mass Observation idea of a national panel was revived from the Archive in 1981. Through the press, televison and radio, new volunteer writers or 'Mass Observation correspondents' were recruited from all over Britain.

Find out more about the Mass Observation Project here.

Designated status & celebrations

In 2006, the Mass Observation Archive was awarded Designated status. The Designation Scheme identifies the pre-eminent collections of national and international importance held in England's non-national museums, libraries and archives, based on their quality and significance. The Scheme is administered by Arts Council England. Find out more about the Designation Scheme here.

In 2012 the Mass Observation Archive celebrated 30 years of the Mass Observation Project and the foundation of the original Mass Observation organisation 75 years ago. To find out more about the events click here.