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Papers from the Mass-Observation Archive at the University of Sussex

Part 9: Topic Collections - Shopping and Self-image, 1938-1965

Mass-Observation was a pioneering social research organisation whose papers provide insights into the cultural and social history of Britain from 1937 to 1965. 
Its strength is that it describes everyday life in the words of ordinary people, with extensive interviews and records of overheard conversations, rather than through polls.  The collection is also a wonderful source of contemporary ephemera.

Parts 4-12 cover the majority of the Topic Collections, which bring together the primary material collected by Mass-Observation's studies from 1937 onwards. By accessing this original data, scholars are able to form their own conclusions about the many topics which were investigated. Part 9 describes life in Britain from 1938 to 1965, with much on material culture, shopping and self-image.  It covers:

  • Shopping, 1937-1965 - 7 boxes of material detailing changing trends in consumption as Britain escaped wartime and postwar austerity;
  • Personal Appearance and Clothes, 1938-1954 - from teenagers to women in dance halls, and from working men to fashion designers, this section looks at all aspects of fashion and self-image;
  • Commercial Advertising - analysing adverts, with writing on war and sexism;
  • Commodities, 1941-1964 - various product surveys from baked beans to electrical appliances and from tea to toothpaste;
  • Co-operative stores survey, 1939-47 - For London, Birmingham, etc, concerning the goods stocked and the benefits of membership.
"It is hard to imagine any scholar of 20th century Britain who would not find this collection invaluable for their research and teaching."
James Vernon,
UC Berkeley.

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