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Mass-Observation Archive

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The Archive of Mass-Observation, a pioneering social research organisation, is one of the University of Sussex’s most distinctive holdings, and is a unique and invaluable resource for sociologists and cultural historians. Mass-Observation is concerned with ordinary people’s lives and experiences and has, over the years, solicited opinion on topics from wartime rationing to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The accumulated Archive offers researchers material in such volumes, and on such a broad range of themes, that it is possible to measure social change and gauge popular opinion through the study of highly subjective responses. Mass-Observation has traditionally made no distinction between the personal and the political and values topics traditionally thought of as too ‘trivial’ for academic study as highly as the more usual subjects which concern sociologists. The Mass-Observation Archive now represents a unique sample of public opinion and experience which demonstrates across its hundreds of boxes that everyday life is anything but ordinary.

The files in the Archive represent two clear phases of activity. The original Mass-Observation was established in 1937 and collected material and opinions until the mid 1950s and the Mass Observation Project launched in 1981. The Archive also incorporates a number of additional collections which have a thematic link to the work of Mass-Observation; this material is diverse in form and includes documentary photographs, readers’ letters to national newspapers and personal papers donated by individuals, including private diaries.

Mass Observation today

Mass Observation was relaunched as the ‘Mass-Observation Project’ in 1981 and continues to issue questionnaires, collate the responses and make them available for research today. The Archive also continues to collect diaries and small collections from individual donors and partners other projects and activities. Further information on the current activities of Mass-Observation, as well as more on its history, is available at the Mass-Observation website.

The Mass Observation Archive received Designated Status in 2005, recognising it as one of the pre-eminent collections of national and international importance held in England.

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