The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own. -- Adam Gopnik



March 10, 2014

Things learned in books...



 
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.
  
from Jambusters:  the story of the Women's Institutes
in the Second World War
, by Julie Summers
 
A perfect reminder, in about 200 words, of why I love to read:  a glimpse of a project I had never heard of {a fascinating one}, a jolt of remembering that there was a time when it would have been taken an effort (and postage stamps) to know what was happening in ordinary people's everyday lives {I remember it!}, and ... Oh! the realization that something that is sweet and retro for us could have been very different {unrealistic? patronizing?} to the people who had to live with it then.


3 comments:

karen taylor said...

I've been waiting for a post like this. I also wondered whether mass observation may be a good idea again. I feel we have a chance now of social history disappearing into the ether if we continue without it.being left a password in a will is not quite the same as a diary :(
Little things I've learned- separate the lid and the bottle when recycling-Junkyard Planet.
The damage overuse of paper does -Paper Trails.
The loss of the forest and tiger habitat- The Tiger
I think much more now.
Little changes.
Books are wonderful treasure troves.

lyn said...

Some of the MO diaries have been published. Nella Last is probably the most famous. There was a collection of the diaries called Wartime Women compiled by Dorothy Sheridan & Faber Finds have also reprinted some of the original compilations. What a fantastic resource it is for historians & writers of the period.

JoAnn said...

This is fascinating!! Have never heard of this project...

You find the most interesting books, Audrey.