Launch of our new database

We are delighted to announce that we have  launched our new online, interactive  database .

Although the database is accessible online, it can also be downloaded in Excel spread sheet format.

The database allows its users to:

  • Search for individual writers and find out more about their demographic characteristics, such as age/year of birth, gender, occupational category, marital status.
  • Search for writers with specific demographic characteristics, such as gender, or year of birth.
  • Identify writers’ writing behaviours – showing the directives to which individual writers have responded.
  • Search for directives and themes.

We have written some FAQs intended to help new users.  There are also some simple tools (with instructions) to compare the Mass Observation writers with the broader UK population.

We hope that the database is easy to use. But if you identify any problems, please use the contact information at the top of the database website.

Over the next few weeks we are going to be publishing some ‘How to use the database’ videos/vlogs on the Mass Observation Archive’s YouTube channel.

We are also going to publish some videos/vlogs on some of the findings from the analyses that we have been working on. Please watch this space for updates.

 

 

 

Link

I was invited to present at the Research Methods Festival 2016 (RMF)  being held at the University of Bath, on the question ‘What is Mass Observation’ ?  This was a great opportunity to:

  • introduce Mass Observation to an audience that didn’t know much about this great source of qualitative data
  • provide some information on why we have been undertaking the Defining Mass Observation Project
  • provide some simple findings from the project, on ‘Who are the Mass Observation writers?’

Do take a look at the presentation in the link above, if you are interested.

Taking part in the RMF was a really positive experience. The audience were really friendly and interested in the presentation. Everyone attending seemed to get a real buzz out of thinking about methods, and how and why we use certain methods and data sources.  And I was able to attend some really interesting and exciting presentations.  My particular high point was a session on ‘Paradata’ which had some strong cross-overs with the Defining Mass Observation project.

 

Analysing writers’ responses to the 2008 Your Life Line directive

We’ve been fascinated by the variety of responses to the 2008 Your Life Line directive, and the different ways in which writers have described life events that are significant to them.

Some writers who have contributed to this directive have listed key life events chronologically, and in very neutral terms. Events such as the birth of a child, death of a parent are understated, and it can be difficult to understand how the writer feels about these, requiring a very close reading of the text. This has prompted huge discussions amongst the research team about neutral language use, the context of an individual’s writing, and how evocative very subtle changes in language and terminology can be. Writing, that at a first glance can appear to be a relatively neutral list,  can have the capacity to move the reader through its brevity and subtle changes in tone, register  and content.

Other writers have written full-blown autobiographies, detailing their feelings about events, everyone involved, giving us insights into the weft and texture of their lives. We thought these would be much easier to analyse.  But, as we have started to analyse these we became aware of ourselves as readers, and aware that the writer has produced this writing at one timepoint – 2008 – with hindsight. It has made us wonder whether the writer felt differently at the time that  these events were happening?

Writer M388, a female writer who responded to this directive at the age of 77 sums up some of the difficulties of writing a life, and picking out significant events:

As I think about the key events of my life, I wonder if age has a marked effect on perceptions. I think there are fewer ‘key events’ I’d list now then perhaps 20 years ago. Things/events that mattered great deal at the time have merged with other things since to take a less important role in my life line.

This is a point that our transcribers made when they were transcribing the handwritten scripts into electronic documents. They felt that the significant life-events that younger writers were describing were not the same of those as middle-aged and older writers.

We intend to look at some of the earlier writing of some writers who have been writing for the archive for a long-time, and compare these to their more recent writing, to test  M388’s thoughts on age and what constitutes a significant life-event.

Mass Observation Day Diaries 12 May 2015

Mass Observation is repeating its annual call for day diaries, capturing the everyday lives of people across the UK, on Tuesday 12th May 2015. The diaries will be stored in the Archive at The Keep and be used by a wide range of people for research, teaching and learning including academics and students, schools, writers, producers, artists, community and special interest groups and the general public.   

http://www.massobs.org.uk/12may

Why 12th May? 

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. May 12th 2015 is likely to be quite an ordinary day, but for those researching, the ‘ordinary’ it can often provide extraordinary results.

How to take part

Write as much as you can about what you do, who you meet, what you talk about, what you eat and drink, what you buy or sell, what you are working on, the places you visit, the people you meet, the things you read, see and hear around you, how you are feeling and of course what you yourself think

1)            Diaries should be in electronic form as email attachments (as word documents or pdfs, preferably) to moa@sussex.ac.uk

2)            Please refrain from including your real name, contact details, or the personal details of the people mentioned in your diary. Please remember that these diaries will be read and used for research and teaching, so don’t include anything that may identify you or others.

3)            You should include a brief self portrait: your age, where you live, your relationship status, your present job or occupation if you are working and any other information that you think is important to record.

4)            If 12th May was a typical day for you please say so. If not, please say why it wasn’t. Any reflections on the day and on how you felt while keeping the diary are welcome.

5)            So that we can add your diary to the rest of the Archive for the future, please include the statement below at the end of your diary. If you don’t attach this statement, we won’t be able to keep your diary or make it part of the Archive.

“I donate my 12th May diary to the Mass Observation Archive. I consent to it being made publicly available as part of the Archive and assign my copyright in the diary to the Mass Observation Archive Trustees so that it can be reproduced in full or in part on websites, in publications and in broadcasts as approved by the Mass Observation Trustees. I agree to the Mass Observation Archive assuming the role of Data Controller and the Archive will be responsible for the collection and processing of personal data and ensuring that such data complies with the DPA.”

Welcome to our first blog!

We were delighted to find out that we were successful in gaining funding from the ESRC to begin work on the ‘Defining Mass Observation’ project; and we are thrilled that that this is a collaborative project, with academics working in partnership with the Mass Observation Archive (MOA).

The project aims to find out more about the 4,000 people who have been writing for the contemporary Mass Observation Project (MOP) since it started in 1981.  We hope this will benefit a wide range of communities: schools, adult education groups, community groups, lay researchers, academics, policy makers and practitioners.

Why we are doing this

For some time there has been a debate about the ‘representativeness’ of the MOP writers. The MOA has undertaken some basic analyses of its writers, and found that at certain points in the lifetime of the MOP, writers have been over-represented by women, aged 50+, living in the South East. Using these analyses, some academics have argued that the MOP writers are not representative of the broader UK population, and thus their writing should not be used for research purposes. Other academics have argued that the depth and quality of MOP writing makes it a unique longitudinal resource that can be used by a range of different types of researchers, from all walks of life, and from any disciplinary field.  Unfortunately this debate has impacted on the trust and use of the archive.

This project aims to finally put an end to this debate by producing sophisticated analyses of MOP writers that provide clear descriptions of writers and their socio-economic characteristics, and insights into how writers perceive themselves.  This will enable all users of the archive to be confident about how and why they use this resource.

What we hope to achieve by the end of the project

At the end of this project we will have produced several outputs that will be of direct benefit to the users and potential users of the MOP:

  • An interactive, online, searchable database, enabling archive users to undertake a wide variety of searches of writer characteristics and responses to different directives.  This will be accessible through the MOA website.
  • Published accessible reports and articles describing MOP writers, that will be of interest to lay and academic audiences
  • A day conference launching the interactive database.

Time-line

The project will run until 2016.  We aim to provide regular updates on our progress. So please keep visiting.

And, please leave comments!  We would love to know what you think about the project, and the website.

Rose