The Mass Observers: A History, 1937-1949

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Oxford University Press, Mar 14, 2013 - History - 401 pages
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This is the first full-scale history of Mass-Observation, the independent social research organisation which, between 1937 and 1949, set out to document the attitudes, opinions, and every-day lives of the British people. Through a combination of anthropological fieldwork, opinion surveys, and written testimony solicited from hundreds of volunteers, Mass-Observation created a huge archive of popular life during a tumultuous decade which remains central to British national identity. The social history of these years has been immeasurably enriched by the archive, and extracts from the writings of M-O's volunteers have won a wide and admiring audience. Now James Hinton, whose acclaimed Nine Wartime Lives demonstrated how the intensely personal writing of some of M-O's volunteers could be used to shed light on broader historical issues, has written a wonderfully vivid and evocative account which does justice not only to the two founders whose tempestuous relationship dominated the early years of Mass-Observation, but also to the dozens of creative and imaginative, and until now largely unknown, young enthusiasts whose work helped to keep the show on the road. The history of the organisation itself - the staff, the research methods, the struggle for funding, M-O's characteristic 'voice', and its role in the cultural and political life of the period - are themselves as interesting as any of the themes that the founders set out to document. This long-awaited and deeply researched history corrects and revises much of our existing knowledge of Mass-Observation, opens up new and important perspectives on the organisation, and will be seen as the authoritative account for years to come.
  

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Contents

1 Origins
1
2 Harrissons Worktown
17
3 Madges Observers
61
4 Metrop
89
5 Saving and Spending
113
6 War Begins
128
7 The Summer of 1940
166
8 Blitztown
191
11 Method
260
12 Interregnum
294
13 The Willcock Years
308
14 Harrissons Return
331
15 A New Regime
351
16 Conclusion
368
Bibliography
379
Index of Mass Observers
391

9 Production
216
10 Reconstruction
241

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About the author (2013)


James Hinton has published widely on the social history of twentieth-century Britain. His early work in labour history included The First Shop Stewards' Movement (1973) and Labour and Socialism (1983). A spell of intense political activism in the 1980s anti-nuclear movement was reflected in Protests and Visions: Peace Politics in Twentieth-Century Britain (1989). Turning his attention to the 1940s, he has published three monographs on contrasting groups of active citizens: Shop Floor Citizens: Engineering Democracy in 1940s Britain (1994); Women, Social Leadership and the Second World War (2002); and Nine Wartime Lives: Mass-Observation and the Making of the Modern Self (2010).

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