Mass Observation, that brilliant window on everyday life, presented the most valuable of vignettes in its myriad reports, diaries, questionnaires, and observations during the early years of the war. Set up in 1937 by three young men, anthropologist Tom Harrisson, poet and journalist Charles Madge, and filmmaker Humphrey Jennings, its aim was to document and record everyday life in Britain through the eyes of ordinary people. They recruited some 500 people, who were untrained, to keep diaries and volunteers to work on questionnaires. The initial impetus was to record the public's reaction to the abdication of Edward VII but in August 1939 they asked the public to send them a day-to-day account of their lives in the form of a diary. ... The value of these observations is inestimable, but even at the time Mass Observation's research through questionnaires influenced government thinking. Famously, it was publicly critical of the Ministry of Information's posters, including 'Keep Calm and Carry On,' forcing a change of attitude and the production of more appropriate posters.
in the Second World War, by Julie Summers