An archive of feeling? Mass observation and the mid-century moment

Langhamer, Claire (2016) An archive of feeling? Mass observation and the mid-century moment. Insights, 9 (4). pp. 1-15. ISSN 1756-2074

[img] PDF - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (272kB)


This working paper has two objectives: one is methodological and the other is empirical. First it explores the issues at stake in accessing feelings in the past. How do historians ‘get at’ emotion and what feeling-evidence is available to us? Here I am particularly interested in identifying sources that allow access to the feelings of ‘ordinary’ people and to the messiness of everyday emotional life. I will focus in particular upon the material generated by the British social investigative organization – Mass Observation – in the middle years of the twentieth century. In the second part of the paper I will demonstrate how a small sample of this Mass Observation material – discursive responses to open ended questionnaires sent to a panel of volunteer writers in May and August 1945 – can be used to enhance our understanding of the British transition from war to peace. Specifically I will use Mass Observation material to illuminate the work that emotion did, and was called upon to do. I will argue that emotion-management was a powerful frame for individual as well as public reconstruction narratives; that individual feeling and experience was valorised within this context; and that an emerging ‘right to feel’ was an important aspect of a broader post-1945 rights discourse.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Mass observation, Emotion, Britain
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: Claire Langhamer
Date Deposited: 30 Aug 2016 08:42
Last Modified: 16 Jan 2020 12:45

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update