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Cringe with Mass Observation

Cringe event

Last week, as part of the Being Human Festival of Humanities, the Mass Observation Archive hosted an event to celebrate teenage diary writing. The event was held in partnership with Cringe, UKCringe, UK who host regular events in London where people read from their teenage diaries. In this blog post, the organiser of Cringe, UK, Ana McLaughlin, reports on the event.

When Mass Observation first got in touch about a potential event, I was thrilled. Cringe nights have been running in the UK since 2009, having been imported by the founder of New York Cringe Sarah Brown. She had found re-reading her own teenage diaries hilarious and realised here was an enormous untapped reservoir of very funny material that was worth sharing, so she established open mic nights where people could read diaries, rock band lyrics, lists of things they hated about their parents and just about anything they had scrawled during their teenage years. In the six years Cringe has been running in London we’ve been treated to the darkest, most secret thoughts of adolescents writing in the 1990s, 80s, 70s and even the 50s – and we have learned that although cultural reference points and attitudes change, much about puberty is universal: obsessions with fashion and appearance; passions for bands and favourite television shows; sibling rivalry; bucking against parental restrictions; unrequited love. The event with Mass Observation gave us the opportunity to take the show on the road to Brighton and entertain a new audience, hear new readers and most importantly to have academics from the University of Sussex examine the phenomenon of teenage diaries as part of the Being Human festival of the Humanities, which was absolutely fascinating.

It’s always been interesting to note how readers address their diaries. They name them – Yoda, darling Janet, in several cases Kitty (when the writer has just read The Diary of Anne Frank and considers that their own musings on being allowed to watch X-Men and revising for GCSEs will probably have similar historical impact to her diary.) They apologise for not writing enough and ask questions of their diaries; often, they lie to their diaries either unconsciously (claiming they don’t fancy someone they clearly do) or consciously (the boy who implied he might have been ‘blown’ on the French Exchange and, while reading, freely admitted he definitely had not.)
This relationship between diary and writer was fascinating to have the academics examine – Dr Lucy Robinson talked about the confusion of voices she detected in her own diaries. Adolescence is a time when you’re trying on different identities for size, which includes experimenting with your physical look as many diaries intricately detail, but also with your own emerging social and political outlook. (I’m reminded of the reader who solemnly wrote: “Today, we invaded Iraq,” and followed it up immediately with, “My new pens are cool, huh?”)

Many teenage diary writers consider it likely their words will be published when they grow up and do the great things they consider themselves capable of – delusions of grandeur are a common theme – and this was even picked up in one of the readings from a Mass Observation diary written in the 1920s by a girl who wrote, “I want to do great things, to be great.” For all the restrictions placed on teenagers by school rules and parental guidance, it is emotionally often a time when possibilities seem limitless, and this sense that your diaries might one day be pored over as the juvenilia of a statesman, author or rock star (common teenage employment fantasies) can sometimes be seen in the tone – designed to impress, riddled with half-understood long words. The gap between delusion and reality is, in retrospect, what makes adolescent diaries so extremely funny – as the plan for thrashing out world peace in the Middle East is interrupted by a rant on the pettiness of a sister who won’t let the writer borrow their lipstick. Teenage dreams are big, but their actual horizons are necessarily small.

Something else that was apparent from the event was the value of diaries to social historians. Nobody engages more passionately with popular culture than teens, who are tribal about their tastes in fashion, music and literature. Jane Harvell, reading at the event, noted the fluctuating fortunes of Depeche Mode in the singles chart in astonishing detail. Often it’s the cultural reference points that really date the audience – dumping someone in pink Comic Sans font on MSN got an enormous laugh from twenty-somethings at Cringe, and references to the Body Shop’s Dewberry range tickled thirty-something women in the crowd. Teenagers are the ideal filter through which to see exactly what’s going on culturally, and diaries are the place where this incidental detail finds a natural home.


We’ve long enjoyed hearing people read from their secret diaries because it’s hilarious, and partnering with Mass Observation – as well as making for a very funny evening – gave us a new insight into what we’d been hearing all these years. Thank you for having us!

Ana McLaughlin

Dr Lucy Robinson (University of Sussex) has also written about the event. You can read her blog post here

A Notable Woman: The Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt

Virginia Woolf meets Caitlin Moran: the extraordinary journals chronicling one ordinary woman's life.

Notable Woman‘Perhaps in some future generation, when I am dead, they may read these words I am now writing. Reader, please be kind to me! I am only 16 at present, and just realizing life and beginning to think for myself. It's all very thrilling in its strange newness.’

“What makes Jean’s journals special is the intimacy and frankness of her account of a life seen from the inside, and the way she draws the reader into a relationship with her: you want to protect her, and simultaneously to slap her and cheer her on. It’s very funny, occasionally sobering, and shot through with acute insights. Timeless, funny and utterly absorbing.” – HILARY MANTEL

The diaries of a Mass Observer, Jean Lucey Pratt have been edited by Simon Garfield and published by Canongate as A Notable Woman:The Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt. Those familiar with MO publications may remember Pratt from the edited collections of wartime MO diaries: Our Hidden Lives; We Are At War, and Private Battles (also edited by Garfield), which Pratt appears in under the pseudonym of Maggie Joy Blunt. This new publication brings together her MO diaries with her private journals.

Jean wrote about anything that amused, inspired or troubled her, laying bare every aspect of her life with aching honesty and infectious humour. She recorded her yearnings and her disappointments in love, from schoolgirl crushes to disastrous adult affairs.

“What a find! Jean’s voice sings across the decades, fresh, vivid and desperate for love - a woman with so much to offer, who kicks against the stuffy society in which she finds herself. I grew to love her sharp observation, her vulnerability and her passion” – DEBORAH MOGGACH

Hacking the Archives - Mass Observation

As part of this year's Bloomsbury Festival data 'hacked' from the Mass Observation Archive will be projected onto Senate House. London on 23rd October 2015. 

Senate House is famous the former home of the WWII Ministry of Information, and as inspiration for George Orwell’s 1984. For the Bloomsbury Festival 2015 watch the building light up in celebration of that history. Using data ‘hacked’ from the Mass Observation Archive and collections relating to the Ministry of Information, ‘Hacking the Archives’ presents digital artwork that explores everything from mass-surveillance to ornithology, wartime diaries to bee keeping records. At dusk on Friday 23rd, this work will be projected onto the façade of one of the most iconic buildings in London!

Hacking the Archives is funded by the Arts Council England and sponsored by Adam Matthew Digital. It features work by artists Dan Brown, D-Fuse, Jaime Jackson, Ned James, Nat Pitt, Sally Payen and Cathy Wade. All commissioned to hack the archives.

Presented by the School of Advanced Study. Find out more here

Invisible Woman - play inspired by the Mass Observation Archive

invisble womanFollowing performances at the Edinburgh Festival, on 18th October a new play that was inspired by the Mass Observation Archive will be performed at the Otherplace in Brighton

 

Invisible Woman

A thrilling tale of derring-do in WWII.

Repressed housewife, Mrs Bishop, is just the person to help the Resistance – but who is this mysterious lady and will her true identity be revealed?

Kate Cook plays everyone from 15 year old Cecily, the swing dancing dreamer to sadistic Herr Von Schnerkel, a General of Hitler's Gestapo and many other crackpot characters.

A story telling tour de force – Invisible Woman is a funny, touching portrayal of one woman’s journey into freedom and adventure.

"Nothing short of genius!" ★★★★ (Edfringe Review)

Invisible Woman

G.B Edwards biography now published

genius friendGenius Friend: G.B Edwards and The Book of Ebenezer Le Page has now been published by Blue Ormer publishing.
 
The book is the biography of G.B Edwards who’s first and only novel, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, was published in 1981 to continual critical acclaim. Despite the books success, little was known about Edwards until this biography. In this publication the biographer, Edward Chaney, uses archival sources to piece together this reclusive author’s life, which includes contributing to Middle Murry’s Adelphi magazine and working for Mass Observation in Bolton as part of the Worktown project.
 
Find out more about the publication here
 

The Bolton/Worktown corpus

pub worktownA new website by Dr Ivor Timmis explores using material collected by Mass Observation in Bolton in the late 1930s for linguistic analysis and offers free access to the corpus used for analysis. The corpus is conversations by working class Boltonians recorded verbatim by the Mass Observation investigators. Corpus files and transcription notes can be downloaded from the website here.

Worktown: The Astonishing Story of the Project that launched Mass Observation

worktownThe astonishing story of the project that launched Mass Observation

In the late 1930s the Lancashire town of Bolton witnessed a ground-breaking social experiment. Over three years, a team of ninety observers recorded, in painstaking detail, the everyday lives of ordinary working people at work and play - in the pub, dance hall, factory and on holiday. Their aim was to create an 'anthropology of ourselves'. The first of its kind, it later grew into the Mass Observation movement that proved so crucial to our understanding of public opinion in future generations.

The project attracted a cast of larger-than-life characters, not least its founders, the charismatic and unconventional anthropologist Tom Harrisson and the surrealist intellectuals Charles Madge and Humphrey Jennings. They were joined by a disparate band of men and women - students, artists, writers and photographers, unemployed workers and local volunteers - who worked tirelessly to turn the idle pleasure of people-watching into a science.

Drawing on their vivid reports, photographs and first-hand sources, David Hall relates the extraordinary story of this eccentric, short-lived, but hugely influential project. Along the way, he creates a richly detailed, fascinating portrait of a lost chapter of British social history, and of the life of an industrial northern town before the world changed for ever.

Published in partnership with the Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex, which holds the papers of the British social research organisation Mass Observation from 1937 to the early 1950s, as well as new material collected continuously since 1981 about everyday life in Britain.

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Cringe @ Mass Observation

being humanWe are very pleased to announce that the Mass Observation Archive will be part of the Being Human festival again this year. This year, we are partnering up with Cringe to run an event looking at teenage diaries in the Archive. You can find more details on page 33 of the Being Human festival programme here and please save 19th November in your diary for the event at the Latest Music Bar in Brighton.  

Exhibition of photographs by Humphrey Spender

spender 2015 exhibition

The Hayletts Gallery in Essex is hosting an exhibition of Humphrey Spender photographs, taken between 1934 and 1950. This includes photographs taken as part of the Mass Observation Project in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The exhibition concludes on 18th July 2015. For more information visit the Hayletts Gallery's website.

The Mass Observers - newly catalogued material

moa directiveWe are pleased to report that we are able to open up a collection material relating to the Mass Observation Directive respondents. This material dates from the launch of Mass Observation in the late 1930s until 1953. It includes ‘self-reports’ and photographs produced by members of the Mass Observation Panel, as well as letters, bulletins and news circulars created by Mass Observation and sent to the panel.

The collection can be consulted in the Reading Rooms at The Keep. The catalogue record for the material can be viewed here.

This material was catalogued by Andrew del Strother and Lauren Clifton.

 

 

12th May on Twitter

As part of the Mass Observation 12th May diary project we asked the users of Twitter to send us their diaries using the hashtag #12May15. Over 1000 tweets were received. View them below.

.@JessScantlebury and @KLPattrick are at @kingsfund_lib #kfhistory tonight. Come and talk to us about how we can support your research.
Julian Trevelyan's @BoltonWorktown Mass Observation work is currently on display @PallentGallery https://t.co/QuASXiD9hk
"To Assist Guests...who are unfamiliar with the Spanish Language, Senor Matinez offers the following a la carte sug… https://t.co/E80QAWH0As
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