G.B Edwards biography now published
- Published: Tuesday, 29 September 2015 12:32
A 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.
The 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.
We 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.
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.
We 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.
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.
The Mass Observation Archive is looking for more volunteers to join the Mass Observation Project writing panel. If you enjoy writing and want to share your thoughts and reflections for future and current research, take a look at our recruitment criteria.
Material generated as part of the Mass Education Project (2014) has been catalogued and is now ready for research at The Keep. The project engaged with primary and secondary school students from schools across the South East, and multiple adult community groups in East Sussex, running workshops to introduce Mass Observation and explore the importance of observing everyday life. The collection includes:
“It’s funny, but I think my first feeling about homosexuality and sexual arousal was a strong urge to keep it secret forever. I definitely knew the name for it. I was twelve. My parents tuned into a wonderful radio show called “Round the Horne” every week. I adored Kenneth Williams as Sandy with his ‘friend’ Julian, obviously a gay couple. I loved the camp sense of humour, it sort of felt part of me.” - NLGS respondent
The National Lesbian and Gay Survey (NLGS) was launched in 1986 by Kenneth Barrow who, inspired by his membership of the writing panel for the Mass Observation Project, sought to collect autobiographical reports from gay men and women. Like the MOP, each contributor to the Project was given a code to use so that they could write anonymously, and candidly, without disclosing their name to the reader, or even to the administrators of the Survey. In a time where LGBT identities were often stigmatised, this was a necessity. These codes have been used to catalogue the collection, which has given then the dual functionality of protecting identities and providing access to researchers.
“As a child I was very tomboyish and a rather George-like figure (George, of the Famous Five books) desperately unhappy about being a woman. I began to lead a double life, spending the weekends wandering around record shops with a crew cut and a leather jacket, assuming the identity of a boy.” - NLGS respondent
Between 1986 and 2004, 725 people took part in the NLGS, answering questions on varied subjects from first sexual experiences to the Gulf War. Many of the subjects covered are arguably particular to the gay community: coming out; cottaging; images of gay people on television, while others cover topics that were relevant to British society as a whole: the death of Princess Diana; Christmas Day and the General Election. Responses to the Survey could be used to study how British society has changed, not just between 1986 and 2004, but further back, through the memories of older writers, to a pre-Wolfenden report era when homosexual acts between consenting adults were illegal.
“In those days before decriminalisation, homosexuality was generally perceived as a problem, as a curse everyone would want to have removed. How many young men and women must have gone through with that sickening and degrading process?” - NLGS respondent
The responses to the Directives could also be used to chart the development of LGBT identity politics in late-twentieth and early-twenty-first century Britain. The Survey name itself comes under discussion, with Survey participants being asked if they would have signed up for the NLGS had it been known as the ‘Queer Survey’, this foreshadowed the embracement of the word queer as code for a proliferation of identities in in early-twenty-first century. Opinion was divided, although most writers do recognise that there is power in reclaiming the words that have been used to hurt or belittle communities.
“First, let me say that I hate labels. I think that’s the problem with most things, putting people in little boxes, like straitjackets, and nailing the lids shut.” - NLGS respondent
The collection is useful for anyone researching LGBT history, and those researching late 1980s and 1990s history and culture in general. Two books on the Survey were published in the early 1990s: What a Lesbian Looks Like: Writings by Lesbians on Their Lives and Lifestyles (Routledge, 1992) and Proust, Cole Porter, Michelangelo, Marc Almond and Me: Writings by Gay Men on Their Lives and Lifestyles (Routledge, 1993) can be viewed along with the original papers of the NLGS at The Keep.
The Mass Observation Archive is currently collaborating with the University of Southampton, the University of Birmingham and the University of Surrey on the ESRC funded research project, ‘Defining Mass Observation’. The project aims to uncover biographical information about the 4,000 people who have been writing for the contemporary Mass Observation Project (MOP) since it started in 1981. This information will be made available to the research community through an interactive, online, searchable database. Find out more about the project here.