Everyday history

BBC News: A

study of life in the 1930s.

From the soup-eating habits of the middle classes to the application of face cream – a pioneering study of everyday life in Britain is celebrating its 70th birthday… and was the inspiration for Victoria Wood’s double Bafta-winning drama. A common criticism levelled at reality TV shows such as Big Brother is how they have fetishized the tediousness of daily life and turned it into a spectator event. But, as far back as 1937, the belief that mundanity had a currency for historians spurred three young men to start an ambitious and radical project. When Mass Observation began, members of the public were invited to help with a new research project on daily life in Britain – a "science of ourselves".

You can see the Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex. The original project ended in 1951, but newer material has been added from 1981 onwards. If you’re in Britain (and you meet their current needs), you can contribute to the ongoing project. The archive contains reports from paid investigators and personal writing from volunteers, which ended up as a series of file reports on subjects like:

  • Social Attitudes To Margarine (December 1938)
  • Non-Physical Ear Plug Problems (November 1940)
  • The British Sense Of Humour (August 1948)
  • Do You Cry In The Dark? (December 1950)
  • Reading In Tottenham (November 1947)
  • Implications of Peckham (October 1946)

You can browse the titles of the file reports, and the summary of what was produced on each topic, but the actual text is not available online.