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News

New Publication: Mass-Observation: Text, Context and Analysis of the Pioneering Pamphlet and Movement

Book cover

Mass Observation's 1937 founding pamphlet has been republished as part of the Bloomsbury Mass Observation Critical Series. This edition contains accompanying essays by Jennifer J. Purcell, Ben Highmore and Rachel Hurdley. Find out more on the Bloomsbury Critical Series webpage.

Her Majesty The Queen, Elizabeth II

Trustees and Staff of the Mass Observation Archive are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Since its inception, Mass Observation has recorded Royal events, its first survey being undertaken on the Coronation Day of the late Queen's father, George VI on 12 May 1937. It was a privilege for the team to meet the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh and introduce the Archive to them at the opening of The Keep in October 2013.

Mass-Observation headquarters commemorated by English Heritage

The original headquarters for Mass-Observation has been commemorated with a blue plaque, by MO blue plaqueEnglish Heritage. The plaque marks 6 Grotes Buildings in Blackheath, where the idea of recording the thoughts and experiences of ordinary people – as distinct from ‘public opinion’ as presented by newspapers – first emerged. In addition to being the national office for the organisation, this large detached house overlooking the heath was also the home of poet, journalist and co-founder of Mass-Observation, Charles Madge.

Madge recalled that an initial meeting took place in December 1936, the month in which Edward VIII abdicated. The issue of misconceptions surrounding public opinion was thrown into focus by the abdication and the presumptions made about the public reactions to it. It wasn’t until Madge’s letter inviting volunteers to write about everyday life appeared in the New Statesman on 30 January 1937, that the anthropologist Tom Harrisson made contact. They joined forces with the broad aim of creating a social anatomy of Britain; Harrisson, initially, was mostly based in Bolton, Lancashire.

A Nurse's War A Diary of Hope and Heartache on the Home Front

Front cover of Nurse's DiaryPublisher's Synopsis

The remarkable wartime diary of nurse Kathleen Johnstone 'Warm, chatty and endlessly absorbing, this delightful diary brims with intelligence and humour.' Wendy Moore, author of Endell Street: The Women Who Ran Britain's Trailblazing Military Hospital.

The second world war could not have been won without the bravery and selflessness of women on the Home Front. Women like Kathleen Johnstone. This first-hand story of one extraordinary but unheralded member of Britain's 'Greatest Generation' brings home with extraordinary lucidity and compassion the realities of wartime Lancashire.In 1943, Kathleen, then thirty, was a nurse-in-training at the Blackburn Royal Infirmary. For the next three years she kept a meticulous diary of her day-to-day existence, leaving behind a vivid record of the real-time concerns of a busy, thoughtful woman on the frontline of the war at home. Kathleen's days were never the same. She writes in clear and lively prose about life in the hospital: of her fellow nurses, her patients, about death and dying, and the progress of the war as wounded soldiers returned from Normandy in the summer of 1944. She muses on being working class, wartime austerity, and her anxiety about examinations. Here too are dances, Americans and a POW boyfriend in Germany. Kathleen's observations are witty, wry and astute - but above all relatable, even today. Poignant and engrossing, Kathleen Johnstone's tale of trauma, romance and friendship will leave a lasting impression.

Mass Observers Making Meaning: Religion, Spirituality and Atheism in Late 20th-Century Britain (The Mass-Observation Critical Series) by James Hinton

James HintonWhat do people believe about death and the afterlife? How do they negotiate the relationship between science and religion? How do they understand apparently paranormal events? What do they make of sensations of awe, wonder or exceptional moments of sudden enlightenment?

The volunteer mass observers responded to such questions with a freshness, openness and honesty which compels attention. Using this rich material, Mass Observers Making Meaning captures the extraordinarily diverse landscape of belief and disbelief to be found in Britain in the late 20th-century, at a time when Christianity was in steep decline, alternative spiritualities were flourishing and atheism was growing. Divided as they were about the ultimate nature of reality, the mass observers were united in their readiness to puzzle about life's larger questions. Listening empathetically to their accounts, James Hinton – himself a convinced atheist – seeks to bring divergent ways of finding meaning in human life into dialogue with one another, and argues that we can move beyond the cacophony of conflicting beliefs to an understanding of our common need and ability to seek meaning in our lives.

For more information, and to read an extract, visit the he Mass-Observation Critical Series page

The Biopolitics of Care in Second World War Britain (The Mass-Observation Critical Series) by Kimberly Mair

9781350106932 2During the crisis of the Second World War in Britain, official Air Raid Precautions made the management of daily life a moral obligation of civil defence by introducing new prescriptions for the care of homes, animals, and persons displaced through evacuation. This book examines how the Mass-Observation movement recorded and shaped the logics of care that became central to those daily routines in homes and neighbourhoods.

Kimberly Mair looks at how government publicity campaigns communicated new instructions for care formally, while the circulation of wartime rumours negotiated these instructions informally. These rumours, she argues, explicitly repudiated the improper socialization of evacuees and also produced a salient, but contested, image of the host as a good wartime citizen who was impervious to the cultural invasion of the ostensibly 'animalistic', dirty, and destructive house guest. Mair also considers the explicit contestations over the value of the lives of pets, conceived as animals who do not work, with animal caregivers whose use of limited provisions or personal sacrifice could then be judged in the context of wartime hardship.

Together, formal and informal instructions for caregiving reshaped everyday habits in the war years to an idealized template of the good citizen committed to the war and nation, with Mass-Observation enacting a watchful form of care by surveilling civilian feeling and habit in the process.

View the contents and preface here.

Call for Papers: Mass Observation 85th Anniversary Seminar Series

85 logoMass Observation has documented the thoughts, opinions, and everyday experiences of people across Britain since 1937. Its founders sought to capture an ‘anthropology of ourselves’ through a range of techniques, including diaries, surveys, and observations. It has subsequently attracted researchers from across academic disciplines and the non-academic community. Artists, filmmakers, and writers alike have drawn upon its rich collection of material. It remains a rich source of contemporary narrative data and in 2020 and 2021 generated a significant collection on the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year, Mass Observation celebrates its 85th anniversary. To mark this occasion, we are delivering a year-long festival of events and activities. An online academic seminar series forms part of this programme. We welcome contributions of abstracts from across the history of Mass Observation to help shape the series. We invite proposals from those at all stages of their career, including postgraduates, doctoral students, and early career researchers.

We welcome proposals from across all disciplines for individual 20-minute papers.

Possible topics may include, but are not limited to:
• Research methods
• Informing policy and practice
• Everyday life in Britain since the 1930s
• Documenting hidden histories
• Education, writing and literacy
• Health, wellbeing, and COVID-19
• Being human: family, relationships, and emotion

The seminars run monthly, starting in May 2022 and take place online, using Zoom.

If you would like to participate, please send a proposal (300 words max) and a brief biography (150 words max) to Kirsty Pattrick and Jessica Scantlebury at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Deadline for proposal: Friday 25th March

We will respond with speaker confirmation by Friday 8th April

Mass Observation Archive's Strategic Plan 2021-2026

The Mass Observation Archive has published its Strategic Plan for 2021-2026. You can find it here.

Mass Observation Annual Report, 2020-2021

The Mass Observation Archive's Annual Report has been published. Download it here. 

Closure of The Keep, 22nd Nov – 11th Dec 2021


The Keep, were the Mass OBservation Archive is based,  will be closed to the public for three weeks from the 22nd November – 11th December 2021. The closure will allow The Keep to carry out essential maintenance of the stores for collections management purposes.

The closure will only affect the Reading and Reference Rooms at The Keep. Their Reprographics and Research Services will still be availble. For more info visit The Keep's website. You can find out more information about accessing Mass Observation online here

Class of '37: Telling Tales of Girlhood from Before the War by Claire Langhamer, Hester Barron

Image of Class of 37 book cover It is 1937 in a northern mill-town and a class of twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls are writing about their lives, their world, and the things that matter to them. They tell of cobbled streets and crowded homes; the Coronation festivities and holidays to Blackpool; laughter and fun alongside poverty and hardship. They are destined for the cotton mill but they dream of being film stars.

Class of '37 uses the writing of these young girls, as collected by Mass Observation in Worktown, to rediscover this lost world, transporting readers back in time to a smoky industrial town in an era before the introduction of a Welfare State, where once again the clouds of war were beginning to gather. Woven within this rich, authentic history are the twists and turns of the girls' lives from childhood to beyond, from their happiest times to the most heart-breaking of their sorrows.

A compelling social history, this intimate reconstruction of working-class life in 1930s Britain is a haunting and emotional account of a bygone age.