Would you like to be a Mass Observer for the day?

The Mass Observation Archive is inviting people in the UK to keep a diary on Sunday 12th May 2013:

In 1937 Mass Observation called for people from all parts of the UK to record everything they did from when they woke up in the morning to when they went to sleep at night on 12th May. This was the day of George VI’s Coronation. The resulting diaries provide a wonderful glimpse into the everyday lives of people across Britain, and have become an invaluable resource for those researching countless aspects of the era.

The Mass Observation Archive is repeating this call on 12th May 2013. The resulting diaries will be stored in the Archive alongside the 1937 documents. May 12th 2013 is likely to be quite an ordinary day, but for those researching, the ‘ordinary’ can often provide extraordinary results.  Therefore, we would be very grateful if you could document your May 12th 2013 for the future.

If you’ve not heard of Mass Observation before, it is a splendidly odd institution. Established in 1937, they record everyday life in Britain, and one of the main ways they do this is through anonymous diaries. The data collection lapsed and was then revived in 1981, and it is still running today.

I love the Mass Observation project. This is the history that I’m interested in – the everyday lives of ordinary people – how they got to work, what they had for breakfast, what they thought and felt, and of course what they were reading – the things that are not usually recorded. The archive is the most wonderful resource for researchers and I hope one day to be able to go to the University of Sussex to use it.

There does seem to be a resurgence in this kind of everyday, quotidian history, particularly on television. I’ve really enjoyed Lucy Worsley’s history of the home through each room, for example.

Best though, are the diaries published by the Mass Observation project: Nella Last’s War (adapted for television as Housewife, 49), or the collection edited by Simon Garfield, Our Hidden Lives. I think I have learned more about the second world war in Britain from these books than any others. They bring alive the tastes, textures and emotions with a directness and immediacy that only diaries and letters have.

I feel like I should give something back to Mass Obs and will be keeping a diary on Sunday. How about you?


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