I first came across The Mass Observation Archive after reading the wonderfully detailed diaries of Nella Last in ‘Nella Last’s War: The Second World War Diaries of Housewife 49’.
Nella Last kept diaries throughout the Second World War for the Mass Observation Archive. Her writing is full of wonderfully specific detail about the practical and emotional challenges of everyday life. She gives fascinating insight into the remarkable role of women at that time. If like me you are fascinated by the nuances of other people’s lives (or are just a bit nosey) then I would highly recommend you read this.
The Mass Observation Archive is the result of a work started in 1937 by a social research organisation whose aim was to ‘create anthropology of ourselves’. At that time a team of observers and volunteer writers recorded the lives of ordinary people in Britain. This continued until 1950.
In 1981 the Mass Observation Project was revived and now has a panel of around 500 volunteers who write for them regularly, by responding 3 times a year to open ended questions that cover political and social and personal issues and events.
Every year on the 12th May, Mass Observation calls on the general public from all corners of the UK to write a diary of their day, recording detail, feelings, thoughts and emotions from the moment they get up to the moment they go to bed. This originally began in 12th May 1937, George VI’s Coronation day.
I love the idea that people across the UK are putting pen to paper (or more likely today, fingers to keyboard) to give a snapshot of ordinary, everyday life. I love that what is one persons ordinary is another person’s extraordinary. And I love the historical significance of this exercise. Through this very simple act, future generations will have a very detailed insight into what a diverse range of people right across the UK were all doing at the same time.
I have kept journals and diaries for years and for me this is a lovely extension of that discipline. I am busily keeping notes on the minutiae of my day today… standing on the tube, avacoado and tomato for lunch, you get the idea!
I’m look forward to submitting my one day diary although I suspect it won’t be nearly as interesting as those submitted on Coronation day 77 years ago….
images via University of Sussex and Signifcance Magazine