Mass Observation Online

The Archive of Mass-Observation, a pioneering social research organisation, has been described as a "treasure trove", "an invaluable resource for sociologists and cultural historians" and "a fascinating source of precious data for researchers".

It has been used by anthropologists, cultural and social historians, literary scholars, performance artists, sociologists, and those working in education, war studies and gender studies - all of whom testify to the richness of this resource, which opens up a seemingly limitless opportunity for essays, project work and fresh research.

A pioneering social research organisation, Mass Observation was founded in 1937 by anthropologist Tom Harrisson, film-maker Humphrey Jennings and poet Charles Madge. Their aim was to create an 'anthropology of ourselves', and by recruiting a team of observers and a panel of volunteer writers they studied the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain. This landmark digital project opens up revolutionary access to the archive. 

Mass Observation Online gives undergraduate students, postgraduate researchers and professional historians access to one of the great treasure troves of twentieth-century British history. This is an absolutely critical resource.
Professor Stephen Brooke, York University, Toronto


Mass Observation Online offers transformative research possibilities with full-text searching across all manuscript documents using Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR).

HTR is a groundbreaking search technology utilising artificial intelligence to deliver document-level full-text search results in manuscript material. The HTR application uses complex algorithms and artificial intelligence to determine possible combinations of characters in handwritten documents. This enables relevant handwritten text to be identified at document level, allowing users to easily navigate between highlighted search results. Read more or watch the demonstration video.

Key Data

Period Covered

  • 1937-1967


  • Diaries – the most intimate and detailed records of the day-to-day lives of respondents during and immediately after World War II
  • The ‘Worktown Collection’ – the first study of ‘working class’ Britain ever undertaken, focusing on the cities of Bolton and Blackpool between 1937 and 1940. Includes a wide selection of photographs by Humphrey Spender
  • Directives, 1939-1955 – responses to wide-ranging questions on topics such as race, class, religion, politics, the atomic bomb and World War II
  • The Day Surveys, 1937-1938 – Written by Mass Observation’s National Panel of over 500 observers, these diaries record the events of a single day
  • File Reports, 1937-1972 – a complete set of over 2,000 full-text searchable documents, providing summaries of the findings of Mass Observation studies on an immense range of subjects, from cinema- going, fashion, radio and music to sex, marriage, politics and more
  • Topic Collections, 1937-1965 – represent the ‘raw materials’ behind many of Mass Observation’s published studies and include questionnaires, interviews and observations as well as contemporary ephemera on subjects ranging from reading, holidays, dreams, gambling, and smoking habits to sexual behaviour, propaganda, capital punishment and the Korean War
  • Mass Observation's Publications – Many now out of print, these books appeared during Mass Observation’s first period of activity, 1937-1950

Source Archive

  • The Mass Observation Archive, University of Sussex, Special Collections 

Material Types

  • Diaries
  • Day surveys
  • Questionnaires and responses
  • File reports
  • Original manuscript and typescript papers
  • Printed publications
  • Photographs
  • Interactive maps

Editorial Board

  • Stephen Brooke, York University, Toronto
  • Natacha Chevalier, University of Sussex
  • Fiona Courage, Special Collections Manager and Curator of the Mass Observation Archive, University of Sussex
  • Ben Highmore, University of Sussex
  • James Hinton, University of Warwick
  • Benjamin Lander, Dawson College, Montreal
  • Claire Langhamer, University of Sussex
  • Bob Malcolmson, Author and Social Historian
  • Patricia Malcolmson, Author and Social Historian
  • Laura Marcus, University of Sussex
  • Mike Savage, London School of Economics
  • Dorothy Sheridan MBE, Trustee of the Mass Observation Archive and former Director
  • Bob Snape, University of Bolton
  • Brian Street, King’s College London
  • Jennie Taylor, University of Sydney
  • Lesley Whitworth, University of Brighton


  • Food
  • Fuel, 1937 - 1942
  • Air Raids, 1938 - 1945
  • Personal Appearance and Clothes, 1938 - 1954
  • Shopping, 1939 - 1963
  • Commercial Advertising
  • Commodities
  • Youth
  • Cooperative Stores
  • Children and Education, 1937 - 1952
  • Day Nurseries
  • Adult and Higher Education
  • Evacuation, 1939 - 1944
  • Housing, 1938 - 1948
  • General Elections, 1945 - 1955
  • London Survey, 1940
  • Women in Wartime, 1939 - 1945
  • Astrology and Spiritualism
  • Dogs in Wartime
  • Post War Hopes
  • Public Administration and Social Services in Wartime, 1941 - 1942

Key Features

  • A complete set of the File Reports, 1937-1951, with full text searching ability
  • Access to all of the Day Surveys 1937-1938, Directives 1939-1955 and Diaries, 1939-1967
  • Topic Collections covering: Famous Persons; Household Budgeting; Juvenile Delinquency; Korea; Peace & the Public; Radio Listening; World Outlook; Film; Reading Habits; Dreams; Religion; Victory Celebrations; Capital Punishment; Posters; Smoking Habits; Drinking Habits; Gambling; and the September 1946 exhibition held at the Victoria & Albert Museum "Britain Can Make It"
  • The 'Worktown Collection'
  • Eighteen contextual essays by leading scholars describing the archive and suggesting research and teaching strategies, and four occasional papers
  • Photographs by Humphrey Spender, an interactive map and chronology, and much valuable supporting material


Mass Observation Online is a superb resource

The formation of Mass Observation, conceived as a programme for the scientific study of human social behaviour in Britain or, in other words, as an 'anthropology of ourselves', was publicly ......

A remarkable combination of superb content and effective delivery that will serve researchers at all levels

CONTENT Mass Observation Online (MOO) is derived from the Archive of Mass-­Observation, founded in 1937 by three Englishmen, "anthropologists, documentary film makers, and surrealist poets," aiming to create an "......

Highly recommended. Upper-level undergraduates and above.

Much of this mammoth archive, subtitled British Social History, 1937-1972, has been available for many years in paper and microfilm formats. Mass Observation, a British sociological and anthropological research ......

Highly recommended. Upper-level undergraduates and above; professionals/practitioners.

Revisited May'15 -The first review (CH, Apr'10, 47-4190) preceded some of the recent enhancements to this Internet resource, but everything said then continues to be true, and ......

Mass Observation Online is an excellent resource

Mass Observation Online RR 2015/252 Review DOI 10.1108/RR-06-2015-0141 Adam Matthew has been publishing unique primary historical source collections for over 25 years. The company'......

Supporting Material

Usage Case Studies

Going to the Source: Understanding Usage of Primary Source Materials Worldwide

Read the white paper written by Michael Levine-Clark, Dean, University of Denver Libraries: Two universities in the UK made use of Mass Observation Online in undergraduate history courses. At the first ...... View full case study

Mass Observation Online at the University of Bristol - SOCI20064: Investigating the Social

Working closely with the university’s Social Sciences librarian, course leaders were introduced to Mass Observation Online and looked to build the resource into the course...... View full case study