Mass Observation: A Short History

Tom Jeffery

Mass Observation Archive Occasional Paper No. 10

University of Sussex Library 1999


It is twenty years since the first publication of Tom Jeffery's "Mass Observation: a short history". Since then, interest in the phenomenon of Mass Observation has grown well beyond anything we could have foreseen when the dusty and tattered collection of papers first came to the University of Sussex in the early seventies. Many thousands of scholars from Britain and from elsewhere in the world have visited the Mass Observation Archive during these past three decades. The output of books, theses, student essays, newspaper and journal articles, television and radio programmes, exhibitions and even fiction, drama and art works, has proliferated. The activities of Mass Observation between 1937 and the early 1950s continue to inspire contemporary “Mass Observations” - of which the most enduring is the project based in the Archive itself which has solicited the writings of ordinary or “non-professional” observers to document life in Britain throughout the 1980s and 1990s (to be the subject of a forthcoming publication: Sheridan, Street and Bloome 2000). Fascination with the organisation a whole is matched by renewed interest in the founders of Mass Observation. The personal papers of Charles Madge, one of the original founders, were donated to the University of Sussex in 1999, and the year 2000 will see the first biography ever to be attempted of the extraordinary Tom Harrisson, another founder and the person responsible for setting up the Archive at Sussex (Heimann 2000).