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Mass-Observation Archive 1937 - 1950s

About the
Mass Observation Archive

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Collection Description

The Mass-Observation Archive is made up of various types of material collected both in the early period (1937 - mid 1950s) and the current project (1981 onwards). The earlier phase of Mass-Observation has in itself produced several 'layers' of material in accordance to the methods in which material was collected.

'Raw' material in the form of diaries, observations etc. and described in the chart below as 'Studies' & 'Personal Writing' was gathered by Mass Observation and assessed and processed into File Reports. Much of this infomration was then published to disseminate to the British Public.

See below for further information on the types of material and lilnks to searchable catalogues. More information is available on the Mass-Observation website.


Search Catalogue / Example of material

Mass Observation published 25 books during its original phase 1937-1955. The books were written by Mass Observation personnel and covered many of the themes that were being surveyed. The books provide an excellent entry into the Mass Observation Archive, without having to access original primary source material.

File Reports

Search Catalogue / Example of material
Summary reports of information collected through studies and personal writing.
Between 1938 and 1950, Mass Observation staff wrote summaries of the material collected by paid investigators or submitted by volunteer writers. There are approximately 3,000 of these typed "File Reports". They are a good starting-point for researching the archival material.
The reports vary considerably in length and treatment of topic. In general, they are based on the whole range of Mass Observation data-collection methods (including material sent to Mass Observation by members of the volunteer panel in the form of diaries and directive replies as well as drawing on more traditional survey and questionnaire material and observations.

Studies 1937-55

Mass-Observation organised teams of paid investigators to record people's behaviour and conversation in a wide variety of public contexts. The methods they employed included observation, interviews and surveys.

Topic Collections

Search Catalogue / Example of material
The raw material generated by MO’s studies (including observations, questionnaires, interviews, descriptions and printed ephemera), arranged by theme or title of study.

Please note the following Topic Collections will be unavailable until early 2009 due to digitisation: Film; Reading Habits; Dreams; Religion; Victory Celebrations; Captial Punishment.


Search Catalogue
The Mass Observation study of Bolton and Blackpool 1937-40 (known as the Worktown Project)

Personal Writing 1937-65

The founders of the original Mass Observation social research organisation recruited a national panel of volunteer writers to reply to regular questionnaires and tasks.


Search Catalogue / Example of material
Full personal diaries kept usually on a daily basis by members of MO’s national panel. About 500 men and women submitted diaries during this period.


Search Catalogue / Example of material
Answers from members of the national panel to the regular MO "directive" or open-ended questionnaire on a variety of subjects including personal issues.

Day Surveys 1937-38

Search Catalogue

One day diaries written by people from all over Britain who volunteered to be members of MO ’s national "panel" of observers.


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