The Library offers Mass Observation Online—Window into a Britain You Never Knew

England in the mid-20th century is the subject of the database Mass Observation Online. And now the raw data of daily life in Britain compiled by the social research organization Mass Observation is available through the Library, giving researchers a gritty, ground-level view of major social trends in Britain from the Great Depression through WWII and into the Cold War ’50s.

Mass Observation began in 1937 when researchers headed by anthropologist Tom Harrisson equipped an army of ordinary volunteers with diaries and open-ended questionnaires called “directives,” and told them to go forth and record whatever went on around them—to create an “anthropology of ourselves.”

They recorded everything—opinions about dancing, jazz, movies, the Nazi blitz, fashion, women in the workforce, politics, race, class, dreams, propaganda, television, attitudes about sex, conversations taken down in pubs, in churches, dance halls, the cinema, and more.Much of Mass Obervation’s data was condensed and published in file reports and books, but Mass Observation Online offers you the complete handwritten diaries, typescripts, photos and poster art collected by both volunteers and paid investigators. They comprise a unique perspective on England’s popular culture in the years before, during, and after WWII.

Mass Observation Online is just one of the online resources offered by the Library. Please check out our list of new online resources. It’s updated daily!

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