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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mass Observation Day

Today is a very important day. It is Mass Observation Day in the UK.

76 years ago today the Mass Observation Archive asked the populace
at large to record everything they did from when they got up to when they went to bed - and today 76 years later, the archive is asking everyone to repeat the process. These diaries will then be kept alongside those from 76 years ago and will provide historians with a fascinating comparison and insight into how our world has changed or remained the same.

I am somewhat obsessed with mass observation diaries and have learnt much from the often seemingly innocuous, almost throw-away mentions of what someone was wearing or what they were knitting, sewing or repairing.

One of the most famous mass observation diarists is of course, Nella Last. Known as housewife 49 to the Mass Observation archive she wrote hundreds of thousands of words about her 'ordinary' life in Barrow in Furness. If you haven't read the three published books of Nella's diaries, I would highly recommend them.

A fascinating anthology of observations can be found in "Speak for Yourself" first published in 1984. Many of the observations in this anthology are recorded by full time observers who travelled the country often anonymously recording life going on around them. In the early days much of this was done surreptitiously, with observers even sometimes 'infiltrating' organisations or groups to obtain a better picture of it. This covert-ness shocks me and yet I am well aware of how people change if they know they are being observed. It is now out of print but if you can get hold of a second hand copy it is a fascinating read.

I have begun my diary of today to forward to the archive. I am excited to be included in something that means so much to me. If you would like to submit your diary too you can find out exactly how to go about it on the Mass Observation web site here -

so for now,

Ruby xx


jen storer said...

Wow! i can't tell you how exciting this sounds to me. I will follow up and seek out Nella's diaries. I wonder if there was something similar carried out down here in the 'colonies' ie Australia. I hope you had an exceptionally lovely 'ordinary' day. x

Kate-Em said...

I have read and really enjoyed all of the books of Nella Last's diaries. I love reading social histories of the home front during the war and there are so many great books which use mass observation material as their basis. I can recommend 'we are at war' by Simon Garfield and 'millions like us' by Virginia Nicholson for starters!

fabriquefantastique said...

its a fascinating project.....

LandGirl1980 said...

I had NO idea about this!!! Thank you!! :)

Just call me Ruby said...

I'm actually typing out my entry right at this moment ready to email in the morning. So excited to be part of such an important archive :)

lemonade kitty said...

I'm a bit late in thanking you for telling us about this but I've taken part and enjoyed writing about my day, thanks again, Lucey x