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Methods and the Archive Constructing re-usable qualitative data Dorothy Sheridan Mass Observation Archive University of Sussex.

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Presentation on theme: "Methods and the Archive Constructing re-usable qualitative data Dorothy Sheridan Mass Observation Archive University of Sussex."— Presentation transcript:

1 Methods and the Archive Constructing re-usable qualitative data Dorothy Sheridan Mass Observation Archive University of Sussex


3 “Archives do not simply arrive or emerge fully formed; nor are they innocent of struggles for power in either their creation or their interpretative application. Though their own origins are often occluded and the exclusions on which they are premised often dimly understood, all archives come into being in and as history as a result of specific political, cultural and socio-economic pressures – pressures which leave traces and which render archives themselves artifacts of history” Antoinette Burton: “Archive Fever, archive stories” in Archive stories: facts, fictions and the writing of history. A Burton (ed), Duke UP 2005.

4 Mass Observation A pioneering social research organisation set up in 1937 in Britain Used anthropological methods to study “ourselves” Observation of social behaviour Recruitment of people to record their lives

5 The Archive Asa Briggs (VC) offered the collection a home at Sussex Tom Harrisson arrives with the papers 1970 Official opening 1975 Archive set up as a charitable trust Supported by the University of Sussex and by earnings and donations

6 Studies (by the Invs) Surveys Opinion polls Observations Ethnography Printed ephemera Images Typed reports Books, Articles Personal Writing (from the Panel) Diaries Day Surveys Directive replies Letters Most public Least Public “raw”

7 The concept of re-use and Mass Observation Original MO 1937-50s

8 Re-use of original MO: 1 The use of the papers as historical evidence in support of a research project on a particular theme (possibly in contrast to other more official sources and/or complementary to oral history projects): eg Bolton in the late 30s, the Blitz, wartime life, reactions to the Welfare State, women and war.

9 Re-use of original MO: 2 Use of the papers to understand Mass Observation as a social phenomenon and its role in the social, political and cultural milieu of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s eg as part of the documentary movement of the 1930s, as evidence of a specific kinds of participatory political activity, as a manifestation of literary aspirations

10 Re-use 3 Use of the papers to explore issues in relation to the process of doing research - methodology at both the collecting and interpretation stage: qualitative analysis, use of autobiographical material, ethical issues, questions on intellectual property and privacy and issues arising from editing for publication.

11 Re-use 4 Use of the papers as a way of developing new projects and of learning from the way in which MO operated: revival projects and repeat projects eg the contemporary MO Project itself

12 Mass Observation re-launched? Recruitment of new national panel of writers in 1981 Establishment of a pattern of three mailings per year on two or three themes Similar to - but not the same as - the original Panel Funded mainly by earnings from books & fees earned by early material

13 Characteristics of the new MO Backed by the Trustees but very much the personal enthusiasm of David Pocock for first 9 years, then continued by Dorothy Sheridan for the following 18 (ie to date) Independent of research bodies and the research councils or any strategic directions of the UoS Based within the original archive rather than in an academic dept and intrinsically linked to the active promotion of MO as a historical resource No commitment to analyse or interpret the material

14 Sic nos non nobis mellificamus apes So we the bees make honey - but not for ourselves

15 On the boundaries A community project? An academic research project? A participatory initiative? Like oral history? Like blogging? Documentary? Autobiography? Ethnography?

16 Collaboration/commissions: for the Archivist Including questions in the directives which are of interest to researchers Working with academics, students, the media to generate specific kinds of material which otherwise might not exist Charging fees where possible to support the longitudinal nature of the project Enabling research and public access Taking responsibility for the long-term survival of the project Retaining long-term responsibility for the resulting material

17 What does “re-use” mean in relation to post 1981 MO activities? Sharing & collaboration Acknowledging Non-possessiveness Recognition of the contribution of all the partners in the construction of the Archive

18 Using new MO material Ownership Impact of public use on Project’s reputation Shared authorship Mediated relationships Use may be secondary, multiple, concurrent or sequential Use may be analysis and interpretation at different levels and within different theoretical paradigms Use may be for different audiences

19 THE CURATORS Dir reply holders Archivists Gate keepers Librarians Trustees Funding bodies Midwives Brokers The Institution THE USERS Dir reply readers Researchers The Academy Students The Media The “Public” The Commissioners THE AUTHORS Directive respondents MO writers Correspondents Participants Subjects Data providers The “Public” Constructing the Archive

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