Mass Observation Project

1981 - 2009

Explore the history of Britain through three turbulent decades, written by those living through it.

Mass Observation Project 1981-2009 provides digital access to a unique life-writing archive, capturing the everyday experiences, thoughts and opinions of people living through the turbulent final decades of the 20th century and the advent of the 21st century.

Writing in response to directives (questionnaires), hundreds of Mass Observers provide a unique insight into an extraordinary range of subjects, from the deeply personal (sex, family) to everyday life (shopping, holidays) to global affairs.

The unique nature and matchless depth of this material makes Mass Observation Project an invaluable resource for anyone teaching or researching British history of the last forty years.

Modules include:

Module I: 1980s

This first module from the Mass Observation Project covers poignant events from the 1980’s, including the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana, the Falklands War, and the AIDs crisis, as well as the daily lives of individuals from a range of social and economic backgrounds.

Module II: 1990s (Publishing in 2021)

Module II of Mass Observation Project focuses on social and political events of the 1990’s, including the Mad Cow epidemic, the death of Princess Diana, and the General Election.

This module also has a strong emphasis on participants personal opinions and social lives, with respondents discussing personal relationships, health concerns, and issues of rising unemployment.

Module III: 2000s (Publishing in 2022)

Module III has a strong emphasis on technological advancements and the changing means of communication that came with the new Millennium. Highlights within this module include the Millennium Diaries, the events of September 11th and Environmental concerns, as well as detailing the everyday lives, thoughts, and opinions of respondents.

Key Data

Period Covered

  • 1981 - 2009


Hundreds of directives on subjects such as:

  • 9/11
  • AIDS
  • Body piercing and tattooing
  • BSE
  • Christmas
  • Criminal Justice Act
  • Death of Princess Diana
  • Falklands War
  • First Gulf War
  • Gardening
  • General elections
  • Holidays
  • Iraq War
  • Millennium
  • Morality and religion
  • National Lottery
  • Natural disasters
  • NHS
  • Railway strikes
  • Royal weddings
  • Security and crime
  • University

Source Archives

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

Material Types

  • Printed directives (questionnaires)
  • Prose responses to directives typed and in manuscript
  • Newspaper cuttings
  • Photographs
  • Leaflets and other ephemera

Editorial Board

  • Brian Lewis, McGill University
  • Sian Nicholas, Aberystwyth University
  • Jen Purcell, St Michael’s College, Vermont
  • Lucy Robinson, University of Sussex
  • James Vernon, University of California, Berkeley

Key Themes

  • Current affairs 
  • The family
  • The home
  • Leisure
  • Politics
  • Society, culture and the media
  • Work, finance and the economy

Key Features

  • Essays introducing and contextualising the Mass Observation Project
  • Video interviews with leading academics, exploring the archival material
  • Chronology of 1980s Britain, with links to documents