Observing the 1980s

Kirby, F J (2013) Observing the 1980s. In: New Times Revisited, 28-29 June 2013, Universities of Birmingham and Warwick.

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This paper addresses the question of which narratives best encapsulate everyday and ‘ordinary’ experience in the 1980s by discussing the recent creation of the JISC-funded ‘Observing the 1980s’ online open educational resource. The resource brings together voices from the Mass Observation Project (MOP) and the British Library Sound Archive oral history collection with a range of contemporary documents (ephemera). The Mass Observation Project was started in 1981 as a new incarnation of the original anthropologically-inspired Mass Observation Archive of the 1930s-1950s. It is still running today and collects responses from a panel of correspondents who reply to regular sets of questions, known as ‘directives’ on a wide range of topics. The Observing the 1980s collection has digitised the writings of twenty-three of the correspondents from 1981 to 1990 and therefore has the potential for longitudinal as well as thematic research. Mass Observers write about everyday life and quotidian experiences as well as commenting on political and global events.
Similarly, the selection of interviews from the British Library includes material recorded contemporaneously as well as retrospective life histories dealing with the 1980s. Both sets of resources provide us with the kind of reflective and reflexive narratives which encapsulate ‘ordinary’ experiences of the 1980s.
The development of this collection in an accessible, online format raised many interesting methodological questions relating to the selection of material as well as some ethical challenges. What arose from them and is pertinent to the questions raised by the conference, is the challenge of identifying Thatcherism as it was experienced. I would suggest that this cannot necessarily be directly addressed, but instead can only be approached tangentially, by unpicking threads from the correspondents’ and interviewees’ narratives. Such sources challenge our interpretation of Thatcherism, by illustrating the meaning or lack of meaning such labels had at the time and the way people negotiated them in talking about what was happening in their lives and the wider world between 1981 and 1990.
By considering some of these issues and examining a few examples from the collection, this paper will illustrate why sources such as the Mass Observation Project and oral history interviews encapsulate ‘everyday’ and ‘ordinary’ experience, but also present current historians and researchers with challenges in fitting them with our twenty-first century constructions of Thatcherism.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA History of Great Britain
Depositing User: Jill Kirby
Date Deposited: 04 Jun 2014 10:14
Last Modified: 02 Apr 2019 14:51
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/48879

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