75 Years of Mass Observation - Thirty Years of the Mass Observation Project, University of Sussex

Confirmed Speakers: James Hinton (Warwick), Nick Hubble (Brunel), Laura Marcus (Oxford), Dorothy Sheridan (Sussex)

Call for Papers:

Mass Observation was founded in 1937 by anthropologist Tom Harrisson (1911-76), documentary film-maker Humphrey Jennings (1907-50) and poet Charles Madge (1912-96) who celebrates the centenary of his birth in 2012. Its unique interdisciplinary people-centred approach to social research has been reflected in the distinctive role it has played in British public life ever since. From its rapid rise to the status of national institution in the Popular-Front culture of the late 1930s, it has passed through a number of incarnations including collecting ‘home intelligence’ for the Ministry of Information during the early 1940s, working as a commercial market-research company during the 1950s and 1960s, becoming an archive at the University of Sussex in the 1970s and being relaunched in the 1980s as what has become a longitudinal life-writing project.

While the older Mass Observation material has been of key importance to social historians since the publication of Angus Calder’s The People’s War (1969), the longitudinal qualitative data offered by the new project has more gradually come to prominence following the narrative turn in the social sciences. As scholars in English and Cultural Studies departments have become drawn to Mass Observation’s relation to surrealism and poetic aesthetics, the history of Mass Observation, itself, has increasingly become a topic of study in its own right.

This conference seeks to reflect all these aspects of Mass Observation and invites submissions from across the fields of the humanities and the social sciences (and beyond) in a spirit of interdisciplinarity. It is expected that papers will cover topics ranging from the early history of the organisation to contemporary social research drawing on the current Mass Observation Project. Implicit to this all-encompassing approach is the idea that the foundation of Mass Observation was conceptually innovative, differing in kind rather than degree from the cultural assumptions surrounding it and that in order to work most effectively on Mass Observation material it helps to understand it in the round as a field of study in its own right.

We welcome proposals for individual 20 minute papers, as well as submissions of panels.

Possible topics may include but are not limited to:

  • Mass Observation and everyday life
  • Mass Observation and life writing
  • Mass Observation and the Second World War
  • Anthropology and Mass Observation
  • Representation of identity in Mass Observation
  • Surrealism
  • Documentary movement
  • The Mass Observation founders: Tom Harrisson, Humphrey Jennings, Charles Madge
  • Methodology
  • Community history through Mass Observation
  • The Mass Observation Project 
  • We would also welcome submissions on how MO has been used in research projects in all disciplines

Proposals (300 words max) and brief biographies should be submitted to [email protected] by Monday 16th January 2012.


Jessica Scantlebury,

The Mass Observation Archive, The Library, University of Sussex, BRIGHTON BN1 9QL, UK

Tel. +44 (0) 1273 678157

[email protected]