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Celebrating 85 years of the Mass Observation movement

Mass Observation's 85 logo

MO 85th Anniversary Festival

In 2022 Mass Observation is celebrating 85 years of the Mass Observation movement. 

To celebrate MO’s 85th Anniversary, we are launching a festival programme of events and activities exploring different themes MO has touched upon over the course of its history.

As part of these celebrations, we will be running a seminar series. 

The festival programme will run until May 2023, so there will be plenty of opportunities to take part. These may be in person, or online events and workshops, our academic seminar series, recorded talks to watch and listen to, or invitations to join in various activities via social media.

Some events will need be booked via Eventbrite and all details may be found on this page.

Upcoming events will continue to be added each month. Social media engagement will be via Twitter @MassObsArchive and Instagram massobsarchive

We really look forward to celebrating MO’s 85th Anniversary with you!


Martha Doyle Illustration

Illustration of everyday life by Martha Doyle 

Instagram - @martha.doyle, Illustration instagram - @arti.martie


July MO & Recreation

MO Invites

MO invites you to share your summer holidays with us. We would love to hear about what you get up to, whether at home or abroad, via Twitter @MassObsArchive and Instagram massobsarchive. Send us a postcard and let us know. 

An exhibition of vintage holiday postcards is on display at The Keep from end of July onwards.


Autumn programme will be released soon...


MO85 Festival events which have already taken place and recorded talks to listen to can be found below,

Recorded Talks

MO Past & Present

Fiona Courage, Director of Mass Observation Archive, in conversation with Professor Dorothy Sheridan MBE, Director of the Mass Observation Archive from 1990 to 2008. Listen to Dorothy’s reflections on MO’s past history and her rich and enduring relationship with the archive. Recording is available on our You Tube channel here.

Fiona Courage and the MO Team, Kirsty Patrrick, Projects Officer, Jessica Scantlebury, Archivist and Suzanne Rose, Education & Outreach Officer in lively and thoughtful conversation about MO today. Recording is available on our You Tube channel here

MO & Nature & Wellbeing

Listen to Kirsty Pattrick’s research on Nature and well being as reflected in MO materials collected during the Covid 19 pandemic. Recording is available on our You Tube channel here.

MO & 12th May

Listen to the MO Team, Kirsty Patrrick, Projects Officer, Jessica Scantlebury, Archivist and Suzanne Rose, Education & Outreach Officer in conversation about 12th May. Recording is available on our You Tube channel here.

MO & Royalty

Listen to Fiona Courage, Director of the Mass Observation Archive and Jennifer Purcell, Professor of History at Saint Michael's College in Vermont, USA, share observers' writing about the British Royal Family. Their talk showcases some of the work from their forthcoming book, Mass Observing Royalty, 1937 - 2018, part of the Mass Observation Crisitcal Series plublished by Bloomsbury and edited by Purcell. Recording is available on our You Tube channel here.


Mass Observation Seminar Series

The Mass Observation Archive present the launch of Bloomsbury Academic’s Mass Observation Critical Series.

Join us on 25 May to celebrate the launch of the Mass Observation Critical series and two new series monographs: Kimberley Mair’s The Biopolitics of Care in Second World War Britain and James Hinton’s Mass Observers Making Meaning: Religion, Spirituality and Atheism in Late 20th-Century Britain. The authors will be joined by the publisher and series editors to talk about these exciting new books and future publications. All welcome!

This is the first in the new Mass Observation Seminar Series. Listen to the recording here.

Mass Observation and Methodology

Mass Observation and the Human Sciences - Nick Clarke, University of Southampton

Literary analysis as sociological method: Mass Observation Mantelpiece Reports as epic, drama, and archive - Rachel Hurdley, University of Cardiff

Using Mass Observation data across time and in conversation with other data sources in a study of discourses of voluntary action - Rose Lindsey, University of Southampton

Listen to the recording here.


MO Invites

Share MO’s 85th Anniversary via our social media channels. We are inviting people to take part in various activities each month. Ella will be coordinating MO Invites and would love to hear from you. 

MO & Celebrating the everyday

We invite you to celebrate the everyday by sharing your favourite ordinary everyday activities. Elevate the everyday and share something you love doing. Twitter @MassObsArchive and Instagram massobsarchive

MO & Nature

Being in nature can really help boost well being. MO invites you to go outside and enjoy nature. Share your walk with MO and share your view. The MO team will be out and about this month sharing their walks too. Twitter @MassObsArchive and Instagram massobsarchive

Tom Harrisson, MO’s founder was a school boy ornithologist. Make a list of five birds you see and share it with MO.

MO senses. Our new Mass Observation Project directive is on the senses, particularly smell.

What can you smell, hear, see, taste, touch? Share your experience of nature with MO.

MO & Writing

Take part in our national Diary Day on 12th May. Record your day in as much detail as you can and send your diary to MOA and be part of our record of life in Britain today. 

Tweet your day! #12May22.

Share your day via Instagram massobsarchive

MO & Royalty

MO invites you to record the Platinum Jubilee celebrations by sharing your experiences with MO via Twitter @MassObsArchive and Instagram massobsarchive.

Frances Line OBE Coronation Scrapbook. View Frances' beautiful scrapbook here, which was created in 1953 for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

How will you celebrate and record the Queen's Platinum Jubilee? We would love to hear from you. 


Writing Workshops

23rd March & repeated on 30th March 1.30-3.30pm The Collective Everyday: celebrating parallels in our stories. 

Join MO for a writing workshop at The Keep, led by students from the University of Sussex and a chance to explore a selection of archive materials.

Image preview

Students Abbie and Millie researching MOA at The Keep.

This workshop is designed with the intention of celebrating the everyday. As a group, we will look at Mass Observation archives from the last 4 decades to reflect on the collective experiences of people in Britain. Drawing on a range of topics from dreams to snacking, we will identify connections between our daily lives and people in the past, through creative writing.

We are keen to welcome people back to The Keep, the archive centre where Mass Observation is housed. If you would like to drop in during the afternoon, staff will be on hand to chat about the services available and there will be the opportunity to pop into the Reference Room.

Wednesday 18th May 2-4pm The Keep. Life-Writing Workshop with Simon Garfield. £10 per person.

A hands-on workshop with bestselling non-fiction author Simon Garfield exploring the Mass Observation archive and your own journals or memoirs.

thumbnail Simon Garfield

Photograph of Simon Garfield by Sarah Lee.

What are the key ingredients of a great piece of personal writing? What makes the Mass Observation archive unique and compelling? What lessons can one learn from the past to make your own writing come alive and find a structure in an unstructured life? 

Simon Garfield is a trustee of the archive, and has edited three volumes of diaries, as well as the moving correspondence between Chris Barker and Bessie Moore My Dear Bessie. He will explain his own editing techniques as you peruse original examples of diaries and letters from the archive, and he will attempt to answer any questions you have about the projects you may be working on yourself. 


One-day workshop for postgraduate and doctoral students

In-depth Qualitative Survey: Mass Observation

Tuesday 7th June 10am – 4pm, The Keep. £10 per person

This one-day workshop will examine methods of generating and analysing in-depth qualitative survey, using narrative data collected by Mass Observation as a practical case study.

Mass Observation generates narrative data from its national panel of self-selecting volunteers through Directives (open questionnaires). We will use examples of these survey responses ( including the recent COVID-19 collection.

We will look at different analysis techniques, so please come prepared to use and share the methods of analysis that you are using or planning to use in your own research.

Using examples from the Mass Observation Archive we will reflect on how in-depth qualitative data might be used in your research, thinking through the following areas:

  • What is in-depth qualitative survey?
  • What methods can be used to generate data?
  • What kinds of data can it produce and how can these be analysed?
  • Ethical and methodological considerations of using these techniques.

Throughout the day you will be encouraged to evaluate its usefulness to your own research, thinking about methods of collecting and incorporating qualitative data into your own research work.


Phantoms of Surrealism, 19 May 2021 – 12 December 2021, The Whitechapel Gallery's website

On a hot summer day of 1936, a woman dressed in a bridal gown paraded in Trafalgar Square; her head completely covered in red roses. Artist Sheila Legge’s appearance as ‘the phantom of Surrealism' launched the ‘London International Surrealist Exhibition, held at the New Burlington Galleries in Mayfair. This exhibition at Whitechapel Art Gallery will examine the pivotal role of women within the Surrealist movement in Britain in the 1930s. Material from the Whitechapel Gallery’s archive, together with items from the Mass Observation Archive, will shed new light on the contribution of women to the surrealist movement. To find out more about the exhibition visit The Whitechapel Gallery's website

Call for participation: Online seminar series: Using Mass Observation’s Covid-19 Collections

Since March 2020, Mass Observation (MO) has collected diaries and other writing from thousands of people across Britain on everyday life during the Covid-19 pandemic. This online seminar series will bring together archivists and researchers to discuss how best to use MO’s Covid-19 collections and the methodological challenges they present. The archivists will provide an introduction to the archive, the collections, and plans for digitisation and other projects/events. There will be opportunities for researchers to present papers (probably two speakers per seminar, plus time for discussion). One outcome of the series might be a website of seminar videos. Another outcome might be a journal special issue on using MO’s Covid-19 collections and related topics, such as:

  • MO’s response to Covid-19: directives, publicity, partnerships, collections, digitisation.
  • Journals, plagues, diaries, and Covid-19.
  • The uses of MO by panellists, non-panellists, journalists, and researchers.
  • Reading the 12 May day diaries.
  • Reading the directive responses of MO panellists.
  • Approaching the collections from the social sciences and the humanities.
  • Sampling and the aesthetics of representation.
  • Popular responses to Covid-19 and associated discourses of risk and responsibility.
  • Practising everyday life during the pandemic.
  • Using the collections to inform public health responses to the pandemic and its impacts.
  • More broadly, using qualitative research to inform policy responses to emergencies and their impacts

When? Every month, starting in late spring/early summer 2021.

Where? Online


The organisers are Nick Clarke (University of Southampton) and Clive Barnett (University of Exeter), in collaboration with Kirsty Pattrick and Jessica Scantlebury (Mass Observation) and the British Academy (Special Research Grant: Covid-19 – ‘Learning to Live with Risk and Responsibility: Understanding Popular Responses to Covid-19’ – see We invite participation from established and early career researchers, including PhD students.


To express an interest in participating, as a speaker or audience member, please e-mail Nick Clarke (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) by 05/03/21.* To express an interest in presenting a paper at some point in the series, please include your name, institution, and ideas for a working title and brief abstract. We aim to send a schedule and joining instructions to participants in early spring.

*By e-mailing, you agree to be contacted about the seminar series. Your e-mail address may be visible to other participants when this happens, but will otherwise be held by the organisers in accordance with the University of Southampton’s data protection policy (available at

Richard Slee: Mantelpiece Observations (Saturday 12 September 2020 to Sunday 3 January 2021) at Bolton Museum

Toby figureThis exhibition at Bolton Museum presents new work by Richard Slee, one of Britain’s most important contemporary ceramic artists. The newly commissioned pieces have been inspired by Mass Observation’s Mantlepiece Reports of 1937. The reports, with their fascinating lists of objects, reveal much about the tastes, preferences and preoccupations of people living in 1930s Britain. Slee’s work also explores questions of personal and national identity, history and taste, through his surreal transformations of ordinary domestic objects.

Slee has also selected 18 photographs by Humphrey Spender to hang alongside his mantelpiece ceramics. Spender was the lead photographer on Mass Observation’s study of Bolton and Blackpool in the late 1930s, and the 900 images he took for the project are held in the collections of Bolton Museum. The photographs of industrial Bolton and its textile workers at play in Blackpool are hugely evocative of the 1930s, and therefore lend a sense of period context to Slee’s new ceramics. Material from the Mass Observation Archive is displayed as part of the exhibition.

More more information visit the Bolton Museum website. 


Richard Slee: Mantelpiece Observations at Hove Museum (26 July 2021 to 25 January 2022)

Toby figureThis exhibition at Hove Museum presents by Richard Slee, one of Britain’s most important contemporary ceramic artists. The newly commissioned pieces have been inspired by Mass Observation’s Mantlepiece Reports of 1937. The reports, with their fascinating lists of objects, reveal much about the tastes, preferences and preoccupations of people living in 1930s Britain. Slee’s work also explores questions of personal and national identity, history and taste, through his surreal transformations of ordinary domestic objects.

More more information visit the Hove Museum website. 

Mass Observation is hosting two children's workshops at Hove museum on 28th & 29th October. Fun, hands on children's activities for 5-8yr olds inspired by the Mantelpiece exhibition, as well as a creative writing workshop for adults on 6th November.

For more information and booking visit the Hove Museum website


29th July 2020: Writing histories of 2020: responses and perspectives (Online event by the Institute of Historical Research)

29 July 2020, 5:00PM - 6:15PM

How might future historians seek to write the history of 2020, when will 2020 become a subject for historical analysis, and how are—and how should—today's historians and record keepers prepare the ground for this task?

The 2020 Historical Research lecture, sponsored by Oxford University Press, looks at current events from the perspective of three leading historians.

Professor Claire Langhamer (Professor of Modern British History and Trustee of the Mass Observation Archive, Sussex University)
Professor Kevin Siena (Trent University, Ontario, and a historian of early modern disease and contagion)
Professor Richard Vinen (Professor of History, King’s College London, and a specialist in contemporary history)
With Professor Jo Fox (Director, Institute of Historical Research, chair)

The panel will approach ‘2020’ from the perspectives of the contemporary historian, the specialist in historical and contemporary record-keeping; and the historian of earlier, comparable episodes for which histories have now been written.

Book here

14th July 2020: The University of Bolton's A Festival of Worktown (Online, Zoom)

This free onlineWorktown Image festival is presented by the University’s Centre for Worktown Studies. It comprises of a range of talks, workshops, displays of art, a dramatic production and music inspired by the theme of Worktown. Presenters include University staff and students and representatives of Bolton U3A and Live from Worktown.

A link to the programme can be found at: FESTIVAL OF-WORKTOWN Bolton School of the Arts.

14th July at 16:00: Launch of the Mass Observation Project Online (Online)

To celebrate the launch of Mass Observation Project, Adam Matthew Digital is hosting an online launch event on 14th July 2020 at 16:00. The launch will include a tour of the brand-new site along with guest scholars on the history of Mass Observation,


Dorothy Sheridan MBE, FRSA Director of the Mass Observation Archive (1990-2010), Trustee of the Mass Observation Archive (2010-2020) and Honorary Professor of the University of Sussex
Prof. Claire Langhamer, Professor of Modern British History, University of Sussex
Dr. Jill Kirby, Lecturer in History, University of Sussex
Alex Butler, Outreach and Engagement Manager, Adam Matthew Digital

Mass Observation Project is an essential collection for historians, cultural scholars, sociologists and anyone looking at British public opinion from the 1980s to present day.

Sign up here.

The Hidden History of the Mantelpiece

On the 24th March, the Mass Observation Archive will be joining Rachel Hurdley on Radio 4 to help her explore the Hidden History of the Mantelpiece. In the programme, Rachel will be taking a look at the mantelpiece and how its development reflects changes in society. For more information and to listen visit BBC Sounds.