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What's On

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. 


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.

In these extraordinary times, we are calling for you to document your experiences of Covid-19


Since the 1930s, ordinary people have written to Mass Observation about their experiences of key events including the Munich Crisis, Blitz, rationing, Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, Falkland’s War, September 11th 2001, and Brexit.  This is how you can help us create a record of the pandemic:

Keep a journal of your experience of the Covid-19 pandemic 

Please get in touch, if you would like to submit a regular diary but not join the Mass Observation Project Panel. We ask you to take a look at this document which explains some points that you may want to consider before sending your diaries or reflections to the Archive. Please send your diary to us when you have finished writing, rather than in regular instalments. Please also consider keeping a diary on 12th May.

Writing by community groups, schools or other groups. 

We would really welcome contributions from school children and wider community groups. This could be a journal, drawings or writing in any style to record your experience. You could also take part in our 12th May Diary Project

You can send in your contribution individually or as a group. Please see our guidance notes which explain some points you may wish to consider before sending in your contribution to the Archive.

12th May Diary Project ‘10th Anniversary’

The Mass Observation Archive is conducting its annual diary writing day on the 12th May 2020. This is the 10th anniversary of the modern project. We anticipate that this 12th May will be unlike those captured over the last 10 years and welcome contributions from people of all ages across the UK. Whether or not the UK is in lockdown, please consider keeping a diary. For more details visit our 12th May page.

Format of documents

We welcome physical and electronic responses to all the opportunities listed above. A list of formats that we can accept can be seen in our guidance notes. We ask that you retain any physical records until after the lockdown period.

Don't forget to include the following statement:

I donate my COVID-19 reflections to the Mass Observation Archive. I consent to it being made publicly available as part of the Archive and assign my copyright in this work to the Mass Observation Archive Trustees so that it can be reproduced in full or in part on websites, in publications and in broadcasts as approved by the Mass Observation Trustees. I agree to the Mass Observation Archive assuming the role of Data Controller and the Archive will be responsible for the collection and processing of personal data and ensuring that such data complies with the DPA.

More information about this statement can be found here.

Visiting the Archive and contacting a member of the MO team.

Following Government advice and to ensure the safety of staff, volunteers and visitors, The Keep, where the physical Mass Observation Archive is based, will be closed from Monday 23 March 2020.

All events, tours, and workshops during this time will be postponed. The Keep hopes to reschedule them in the future, but if you would like a refund, please contact them.

We will still be responding to email enquiries, but please be aware there might be a delay to our usual response times. We will be posting updates on our Twitter page. You can contact us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Details about accessing selected parts of the Mass Observation Archive online can be found on our webpage about accesses online material.