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New Publication! A Londoner in Lancashire 1941-1943

Annie HolnessA Londoner in Lancashire 1941-1943: The Diary of Annie Beatrice Holness (edited by Patricia and Robert Malcolmson, published by the Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 2016)

Annie Beatrice Holness, a middle-aged London civil servant, was evacuated with her office to the seaside town of Morecambe in 1940. A year later she began writing for Mass Observation. Her observant and thoughtful diary recorded everyday life in all its diversity – her billet, her country walks, her dreary job, her usually gratifying leisure activities (night classes, music and theatre, her allotment garden), the congestion and sights and sounds of wartime Morecambe, such as WAAFs training and throngs of holiday visitors on the promenade. Annie also disclosed her feelings about the setbacks and advances of the war and her attitudes to such issues as social reform, farming practices, religious belief, and the rights of women, especially in the workplace – though reticent on many matters, she was decidedly a feminist. Her perspectives often shifted, as war forced her and others to change. Feeling – as she often lamented – an ‘exile’ in Morecambe, she returned to London in 1945, but two years later chose to come back to Morecambe and settle there permanently. This edition focuses on the years when her diary was at its richest, between 1941 and 1943.

Patricia Malcolmson and Robert Malcolmson are historians who have written books and articles on English social history since the eighteenth century. In recent years they have edited for publication numerous twentieth-century diaries, most of them held in the Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex. These include Nella Last’s Peace (2008), Nella Last in the 1950s (2010), The Diaries of Nella Last: Writing in War and Peace (2012), Kathleen Hey, The View from the Corner Shop: The Diary of a Yorkshire Shop Assistant in Wartime (2016), and several scholarly editions for various record societies (London, Bedfordshire, Dorset, and Surrey). Their latest authored books are Women at the Ready: The Remarkable Story of the Women’s Voluntary Services on the Home Front (2013) and Wartime Cumbria 1939-1945: A Social History (forthcoming), and Patricia’s Me and My Hair: A Social History (2012).

New book from the Archive: Mass Photography

Mass PhotographyWith increasingly accessible camera technology, crowd-sourced public media projects are abound like never before. Mass Photography: Collective Histories of Everyday Life assesses the potential of these popular ‘moment-in-time’ projects by examining their current day prevalence and their historical predecessors. The central focus is the 55,000 photographs submitted to One Day for Life (held by the MOA) in 1987, which aimed, in its own time, to be ‘the biggest photographic event the world had ever seen’. Through case studies like this, Mass Photography examines the particular cultural role that amateur photography offers.

New database for the Mass Observation Project launched

A new database for the Mass Observation Project has been launched.

This is a searchable, downloadable database for people wanting to identify available writing from writers contributing to the Mass Observation Project (MOP) 1981 onwards. It is a resource that provides potential users of the MOP with information about the biographical/demographic characteristics and writing behaviours of individual Mass Observation Project writers.
The database is designed to enable users to

  • Identify available writing of individual writers, or groups of writers, based on their individual characteristics, such as year of birth and gender
  • Identify available writing of individual writers, or groups of writers, based on their writing behaviour
  • Search for available writing by theme/directive
  • Use tools that make simple demographic comparisons between writers and the broader population of the UK
  • Identify writers who have been serial responders

View the database here

Giddy App Launched!

GiddyWalk vicariously down memory lane with Giddy, a treasure trove of memories of teenage love, hope, loss, and rebellion.

The Mass Observation Archive is pleased to announce the launch of the Giddy app. The Archive worked on the Giddy project with students from Longhill School who used MOA and ESRO Brighton collections at The Keep to learn about the lives of teenagers in Brighton in 1940s, 50s and 60s.

Giddy Brighton exhibition launched on 7 May, 4-6pm, at the Theatre Foyer Gallery, University of Brighton, Grand Parade BN2 0JY.

Giddy Brighton is an exhibition that explores teenage memories from the post-war years in Brighton & Hove, launching as part of Brighton Festival 2016, alongside the release of the Giddy Brighton app. Archive images and film accompany oral histories, vividly reawakening Brighton & Hove life during the mid-20th century. Visit the exhibition to hear lived memories of Brighton & Hove; first kisses, endless dances, adventures and exploits.

For exhibition details and app download information visit The Giddy website

Giddy Brighton is a Brighton Festival commission, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The National Lesbian & Gay Survey - BBC Radio 4 Writing the Century: The Experience of Love

NLGS bbc

Writer and performer, Christopher Green has developed a new drama project, for BBC Radio 4, based on the Mass Observation Archive’s National Lesbian and Gay Survey (NLGS). The NLGS was set up by Kenneth 

Barrow in the mid 1980s, to record the experiences of ordinary people living under the shadow of oppression such as Section 28 and the AIDS crisis.

In the early 1990s, Christopher became Ken’s buddy, in a scheme organised by the Terrence Higgins Trust. This drama brings contributions from the Archive to life, alongside the story of Christopher who was with Ken in the last few months of his life.

This five-part drama is scheduled to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4, everyday at 10:45 and then again at 19:45, the week beginning the 9th May.

The Mass Observation Archive helps young people in Brighton & Hove make LGBTQ history

into the outsidePhotoworks has been awarded a £47k grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to lead Into the Outside - a learning project with local young people, re-examining their city’s rich LGBTQ past and creating a new archive of queer youth experiences.

Brighton & Hove City Council is contributing an additional £5k together with specialist support from Brighton & Hove Libraries Service.

Around thirty 13-25 year olds will examine how issues faced today by young people identifying as LGBTQ compare with those faced by young LGBTQ people over the past forty years. Participants have been recruited by an open call through social media, schools and community groups. Not all the participants identify as LGBTQ themselves.

Sessions start at Jubilee Library in April 2016 and will include, archive visits, research, oral history training, heritage skills training, photography workshops and other creative activities.

The thirteen-month heritage-learning project will be delivered in collaboration with the Mass Observation Archive. Workshops and activities will also take place at The Keep, a world-class archive resource centre housing the collections of the East Sussex Record Office, the Royal Pavilion and Museums Local History Collections and the University of Sussex Special Collections. Participants will explore a range of archive materials at The Keep, including the National Lesbian and Gay Survey – an extraordinary collection of autobiographical writing and ephemera submitted by over 700 people between 1986 and 1994.

Many other organisations from across the city are also involved including: The East Sussex Records Office, Queer in Brighton and the Brighton & Hove Aldridge Community Academies.

Participants will use new skills to interview other young people at Pride in August 2016 and Brighton Photo Biennial in October 2016. An Into the Outside exhibition will be shown in 2017 and the project will also create an online learning resource aimed at teachers and youth-workers.

Seven Lives from Mass Observation by James Hinton


Seven Lives from Mass Observation by James Hinton has been published by the Oxford University Press. 

This book, a successor to Hinton’s acclaimed publication about the wartime, Mass Observers: Nine Wartime Lives, investigates what it is like to live in Britain during the second half of the twentieth century. At the core of the book are seven ‘biographical essays’: intimate portraits of individual Mass Observation Project writers’ lives set in the context of the shift towards the more lenient and permissive society of the 1960s to the rise of Thatcherism and neo-liberalism.

The Mass Observers depicted in the book demonstrate that a diversity of voices that can be found within the Mass Observation Project collection. Four women and three men are featured- wife of a small businessman, teacher, social worker, RAF wife, mechanic, lorry driver, City banker. All are lively characters with strong opinions and lives, not always without struggles or drama. The honesty and frankness of their writing allows Hinton to explore how people make sense of their lives in rapidly changing times.

Seven Lives from Mass Observation is published by the Oxford University Press. The RRP is £22.

The View From the Corner Shop: The Diary of a Yorkshire Shop Assistant in Wartime

51xialCnQLThe View from the Corner Shop: The Diary of a Yorkshire Wartime Shop Assistant, Kathleen Hey (Simon & Schuster, April 2016, £7.99), edited by Patricia and Robert Malcolmson.

The MO diary of Kathleen Hey gives a rare insider’s view of everyday life in wartime Yorkshire. As a shop assistant in a working-class district of Dewsbury, Kathleen wrote vividly of the stresses and complex exchanges in a grocery shop – from both sides of the counter. She wrote of her regular customers (and close neighbours) and their quirks – she often saw them almost daily – and the shop conversations that she overheard or took part in. Supplies were unpredictable, rationing rules were confusing to some customers, bending the rules became rooted in daily life, and grumbles were commonplace.

While shop-work and food are at the heart of her diary, Kathleen also wrote about leisure, popular culture, local events, family tensions (she worked for her brother-in-law), and her personal pleasures and private hopes for the future. Hers is an observant, wide-ranging and sometimes amusing account of wartime social life.

Patricia and Robert Malcolmson have edited three volumes of Nella Last’s diary plus half a dozen MO diaries for various record societies (including London, Surrey, Dorset, and Bedfordshire). They are also authors of Women at the Ready: The Remarkable Story of the Women’s Voluntary Services on the Home Front (Abacus paperback, 2014).

Find The View From the Corner Shop on Amazon.


Asa Briggs, Lord Briggs of Lewes, 07 May 1921 – 15 March 2016

Prof Asa Briggs 2Patron of the Mass Observation Archive, Lord Asa Briggs, passed away in March this year. The eminent historian and academic was the University of Sussex’s Vice-Chancellor (1967–76). As Vice-Chancellor, Lord Briggs offered a home to the Mass Observation collection. Dorothy Sheridan, who worked as the Mass Observation archivist, has written some words about Lord Briggs and his relationship with the Archive.

I was an undergraduate during Asa's time as VC at Sussex, and indeed I chose to come to study at the University because my friends and advisers in Yorkshire (who had known him when he was at Leeds) spoke so highly of him. It is, however, his extraordinarily prescient role in bringing the Mass Observation Archive to Sussex that most endears him to me. He was instrumental in building all of Sussex's special collections (including the Woolf archives and the Kipling archive) when the University was still very young. This has ensured that Sussex will always be a key destination for nineteenth and twentieth century literary scholars. Offering a home to the Mass Observation papers, and their irascible co-creator, Tom Harrisson, was inspired. This was Asa's gift to the social historians among us - a collection of materials about contemporary everyday life in the UK, much of autobiographical, all of it original. At that time, in the late 1960s, no one else was interested in the MO collection so without Asa's interest and support, the papers could easily have been lost. Soon after I arrived to work with Tom Harrisson at the Archive in 1974, it was established as a charitable trust and Asa became a leading Trustee. He remained concerned with the fortunes of the Archive ever after and was so pleased, I know, to see it flourish and develop over the years.

Dorothy Sheridan (Trustee of the Mass Observation Archive and former Head of Special Collections)

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