New DMU Library online resource: Mass Observation Online

DMU Library has added a major new online resource to its portfolio of e-resources. DMU students and staff can now access the Mass Observation Online resource on and off campus. This product is managed by the publisher Adam Matthew.

Mass Observation Online provides electronic access to thousands of documents generated by the Mass Observation social research organisation. This organisation was founded in 1937 (by anthropologist Tom Harrisson, film-maker Humphrey Jennings and poet Charles Madge) and ran until the late 1960s. Mass Observation Online provides “a unique insight into life in Britain spanning four decades” – the organisation’s aim was to create an “anthropology of ourselves”. The organisation studied the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain by employing a team of observers and a panel of volunteer writers. The online archive provides a diverse range of content created and collected by the Mass Observation research organisation, including diary entries, day surveys and questionnaires.

How do I access Mass Observation Online?

DMU students and staff can access Mass Observation Online using the following web address

Students and staff will be asked to verify access on and off campus by using their DMU Single Sign On credentials.

How do I search for content? 

Mass Observation Online provides different ways to search and access content available within the archive. The main toolbar on the archive homepage is a good place to start a content search and highlights the different search options available to utilise.

For this blog post, I created a “test” assignment scenario to display how you could search/use Mass Observation Online to support your studies. The theme I selected was “life in Leicestershire during World War II”, so I will concentrate on finding relevant diary entries hosted on the Mass Observation Online platform.


The Mass Observation Online’s Chronology feature presents a timeline of important events that occurred between 1937 and the late 1960s (when the Mass Observation research work ceased). For my assignment scenario, I used this timeline function as a starting point to help me gain a wider view of national and international events happening between 1939-1945:

You can look for particular events or themes using the Chronology search box in the upper left of the screen, or select from a number of predefined categories listed by the site. One of these categories is called World War II. When clicking on this category box, the timeline refines the results to highlight events during this key period in British history. You can also use the movable date filter at the top of the screen to scroll between different years listed in the archive.


To narrow down a search for diary entries linked to a specific location, the Map option is a suitable choice. This a visual tool that plots the locations of all the British diarists that feature in Mass Observation Online:

You can scroll around the online map of Britain and use the zoom in (+) or zoom out () icons to find the locations of diarists that may interest them. In my assignment scenario, I was interested in finding out more information about people in Leicester who were writing diary entries during World War II. Using the zoom in function, I narrowed my search to Leicester on the online map, and found several 1940 diary entries from an individual born in 1913 and living in Leicester at the onset of World War II.


Each diarist has its own record page on the site (e.g. the Leicester diarist I found is “Diarist 5207”) where their diary entries are uploaded. From the diarist record page, you can choose a number of different options in how they interact with the diary documents:

You may want to save the diarist record to their own storage space on the Mass Observation Online platform. This space is known as My Archive. To be able to save searches and store documents, you will have to create a personal profile on the Mass Observation Online site. The My Archive icon will ask you to register for a new profile when you click on this link for the first time. The My Archive login is not linked to DMU Single Sign On – it is an additional username and password to use on the Mass Observation site to take advantage of the personalised features available:

You may also want to cite the diary record for their coursework or export the citation to a reference management tool. The Citation/Export icon (known as the Citation Tool) displays the diary entry citation and allows you to export the citation to different reference management services, including RefWorks:

Scanned diary documents appear as thumbnail images at the top of the record screen. Clicking on any of these individual thumbnail images will allow you to view document pages in a higher resolution in the site’s Image Viewer:

Individual diary images or diary sections can be downloaded as a PDF file to your own computer/device. Once downloaded and saved, you are then able to view/read the documents offline at a time of your choosing:


The Contents tab on the Mass Observation Online toolbar presents different formats of material for you to look at:

One of the options is called Diaries. The Diaries icon allows you to search through all the online diary entries accessible in the archive. You can browse by date range or gender of the diarist. You can further sort search results by date of birth, place of residence or occupation. In the screenshot below, I sorted all the diary search results in alphabetical order of Place of Residence and scrolled to find the diary entries from the Leicester diarist (you can view the diarist record 5207 that I found using the online Map service earlier in the post):

There are many other forms of content available for you to interact with on the Mass Observation Online site. I have highlighted one format (diary entries) and blogged about how you may potentially use the online archive to find relevant and interesting material that will support your studies at DMU. There are a plethora of surveys, questionnaires and observations written by people living in Britain between 1937-1967 that cover diverse aspects of their lives. This includes many different reactions to education, family life, entertainment and politics.