Mass Observation Project – the 1990s sheds a new light on culture and society in Britain in the 1990s

23 March 2021

Published product

A unique social study, capturing the personal impact of a range of events from the decade including the death of Princess Diana, the first Gulf War, and the 1997 UK General Election.


The second module of Adam Matthew Digital’s Mass Observation Project is drawn from the Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex, a unique national life writing collection documenting everyday life in Britain by capturing the thoughts, experiences, and opinions of people up and down the country. The archive is one of the major repositories of longitudinal qualitative social data in the UK and still active, most recently recording the thoughts and experiences of observers living through the COVID-19 global pandemic.


Following the 2020 publication of Module I, which focused on material from the 1980s, the newly-published second module covers the key historic and political moments of the 1990sAlongside recording these global events, the decade also saw the nature of the project shift to include more personal narratives and experiences around topics such as birth, death, relationships, and educationThis broad range of content makes Mass Observation Project a truly inter-disciplinary resource.


What’s fascinating about the 1990s material is the greater emphasis on recording life story narratives, with directives covering topics such as ‘Growing Up’ and ‘Having an Affair’.  The material often reflects on the day-to-day lives and experiences of the Observers which provides a wonderful opportunity to study the history of Britain in the 1990s. The module contains some fascinating and truly personal accounts of life events such as births, deaths, and close relationships alongside those responses to world-changing global events so familiar from the 1980s module.

Martha Fogg, Deputy Managing Director, Adam Matthew Digital


Although the directives – the questions set for the ‘observers’ – were sent out seasonally, occasionally an event of such magnitude occurred that the project sent out special directives to capture the sentiment of the timeOne such example is the directive on the death of Princess Diana in 1997, which is highlighted within the digital resource with a special exhibition, ‘The Death of Diana’, compiled by Dr Fiona Courage, Curator of the Mass Observation Archive. 


From the optimism felt by individuals in their replies to the 1997 General Election directive, to the mixed emotions in responses to the special directive on the death of Princess Diana, the unique personal nature of the material opens a new window into studying the not-so-distant pastResearch into the 1990s as a period of history is still relatively new andour partnership with Adam Matthew Digital provides an unrivalled way to begin to study and explore itpresenting students and academics alike with opportunities to reveal unexpected and intriguing insights.”

Dr Fiona CourageCurator of the Mass Observation Archive


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