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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.

Learning to Live with Risk and Responsibility: Recording of the seminar on the 19th May 2021

Learning to Live with Risk and Responsibility: Understanding Popular Responses to the COVID-19 project is led by Nick Clarke in collaboration with Clive Barnett. The project is funded by the British Academy Special Research Grants: Covid-19 Scheme (Grant No. COV19\200422).

The project investigates how people in the UK have negotiated the myriad demands made upon them during the COVID-19 pandemic to act responsibly in novel ways because of the risks their behaviour poses to themselves and others, and due to their role in complex chains of causation. Making use of contemporaneous qualitative data available through the Mass Observation Project.

A seminar series accompanies the project. This video is a recording of the first seminar on the 19th May 2021.

For more information about the project, and seminar series visit its website here.

Nick Clarke (University of Southampton) and Clive Barnett (University of Exeter) – Some lessons from the literature.

Claire Langhamer (University of Sussex) – Mass-Observing the pandemic.

Kirsty Pattrick (University of Sussex) and Jessica Scantlebury (University of Sussex) – Mass Observation’s Covid-19 collections.

Short films about the 12th May diary project

12MayWe received over 5000 diaries for 12th May 2020 and our two placement students from the University of Brighton, Beth and Keziah have undertaken research exploring the different themes, which have come through this collection. As you might expect there has been much talk of lockdown, homeschooling, loss and grief, but also hope, happiness, creativity and kindness. We have created a series of short films focusing on a selection of 12th May diaries, which are available to view here. It is hoped that these will inspire people to share their diaries with us this year as of May 12th approaches, but also to draw comfort from shared lived experiences during this extraordinary year.

Watch the Blitz Spirit with Lucy Worsley featuring Mass Observation Investigator Nina Masel 

The Blitz Spirit with Lucy Worsley will be broadcast on Tuesday 23rd February, 20:30 on BBC One. The programme focuses on accounts from six people during the blitz in London, including the Mass Observation diarist and investigator Nina Masel. Nina was just 18 when she was writing for Mass Observation and submitted reports on life in the East End and conditions in Air Raid shelters. You can read more about the programme in the BBC History Magazine.


Blitz Spirit TX Card2

Anniversary Conference - celebrating 80 years of the Mass Observation movement

Mass Observation 80th Anniversary Logo Celebrating 80 years of the Mass Observation movement

10th-11th July 2017

The Mass Observation 80th Anniversary Conference was held on 10th-11th July 2017 at the University of Sussex. Our keynotes and closing panel comprised:

Matt Cook (Birkbeck)

James Hinton (Professor Emeritus Warwick University)

Joe Moran (Liverpool John Moores)

Lucy Noakes (University of Brighton)

Lucy Robinson (University of Sussex)

Dorothy Sheridan (University of Sussex and current Trustee of the Mass Observation Archive)


The conference programme can be found here



Professor Adam Tickell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex opened the conference.

Dorothy Sheridan (Trustee, Mass Observation Archive) and Lucy Noakes (University of Brighton) in conversation


The conference was sponsored by   ADAM MATHEW LOGO MASTER CMYK