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Exploring the potential: Examining archived data at Mass Observation and ESDS Qualidata Thursday 19 January 2006 The Library, University of Sussex Catching.

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Presentation on theme: "Exploring the potential: Examining archived data at Mass Observation and ESDS Qualidata Thursday 19 January 2006 The Library, University of Sussex Catching."— Presentation transcript:

1 Exploring the potential: Examining archived data at Mass Observation and ESDS Qualidata Thursday 19 January 2006 The Library, University of Sussex Catching the train a different way of doing research Bill Bytheway, Open University

2 Acknowledgements This paper is based on research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (RES ) It draws on evidence from: the Mass-Observation Archive at the University of Sussex, the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and the Tony Benn Diary Archive

3 Aims of the Birthdays Project to collect and analyse evidence about the social significance of birthdays and about how birthdays contribute to a personal sense of ageing

4 Data for the Birthdays Project Published autobiographical writing Tony Benn, May Sarton, etc. Submissions to the Mass- Observation Archive 186 writers Statistical data from the ONS Omnibus Survey 1,841 respondents

5 Published autobiographical writing Memoirs Diaries Correspondences Autobiographies etc. Potential strengths dated continuing Potential weaknesses self-promoting Selective and edited approved

6 Some birthday entries in some famous diaries To-day is my birthday. I am to- day fourteen years old ! Queen Victoria 24 May 1833 Today is my 18th birthday ! Queen Victoria 24 May 1837 To-day was my 21st birthday. Vera Brittain 29 December 1914 My 39th birthday. Evelyn Waugh 28 October 1942 Forty-six today; fifty in sight. Peter Hall 22 November 1976 I reach the age of sixty. Harold Nicolson 21 November 1946

7 May Sarton writing shortly before her 84 th birthday I mostly simply feel ill, feel not well, feel that something serious is wrong which I cannot control and which I dont understand. The doctor seems to think I am in fine shape, and thank goodness, I heard yesterday that I can drive as soon as I feel able to. I think Ill wait till after my birthday. Then I will start driving; it will be a tremendous freedom to be able to do that. (Sarton 1996: 295)

8 3rd April 1970 My 45th birthday. Had the usual family ritual with people coming in with presents and I got a lovely summer nightshirt from Carol and various other things. Tony Benns diary entry on his 45 th birthday

9 1 st April 1985 I have had five invitations to go on chat shows, because it's my sixtieth birthday on Wednesday. I suppose when you reach sixty the journalists think they can rehabilitate you as an eccentric, lovable old character. Tony Benns diary entry two days before his 60 th birthday

10 3rd April 2000 My seventy-fifth birthday. … I had put a note in to the Speaker saying that I'd like to ask a question about pensions during Social Security questions, and obligingly she called me. I made a strong point about linking pensions to earnings, and in reply Alistair Darling, the Social Security Secretary, wished me a happy birthday and said that he was sure I was looking forward to my free television licence – which really was an insulting response. Tony Benns diary entry on his 75 th birthday

11 The ONS Omnibus Survey The ONS Omnibus Survey Question 1 Thinking back to your last birthday, which, if any, of the following areas of your life did you feel were affected by the change in your age? a)My employment b)My rights under the law c)My educational opportunities d)My access to health services e)My income (including welfare benefits) f)My use of transport

12 The ONS Omnibus Survey The ONS Omnibus Survey Question 2 Thinking about your birthdays in general, which, if any, of the following statements apply to you at the present time? a)My birthdays are no different to any other day b)I enjoy celebrating my birthdays c)I think of my birthday as another milestone d)My family and/or friends make an effort to ensure that my birthday is a special day e)On reaching my birthday I tend to feel my age

13 I enjoy celebrating my birthdays MenWomen %68 % %60 % %56 % %51 % %50 % %53 %

14 Strengths of M-O for research A panel of several hundred anonymous, ordinary people Longitudinal, dating back to 1981 More representative than published autobiographical writing Offers thoughts and experiences in the writers own words Complements and amplifies survey data

15 Weaknesses of M-O for research over-time comparisons not easy not statistically representative no opportunity to engage directly with writers

16 The Birthdays Directive June 2002 Panellists were invited to explore six areas: your previous birthday people who remember your birthday people whose birthdays you like to remember your most memorable birthday the significance of birthdays what you record in a seven-day diary

17 On my birthday I tend to feel my age When it was my sixtieth I told my daughters I did not want to have a party or any fuss made. This business of making a do of the 0 birthdays has come about fairly recently in my lifetime – I dont like it – it just emphasises the fact that one is getting older. (P1637)

18 No different to any other day My last birthday was on September 25th 2001, and I became 64 years old. It was a Tuesday and I did the normal work for that day, vacuumed, dusted, but as it was a lovely sunny day, sat out in the garden as well. (W571)

19 A special day It was as though I had accomplished something extraordinary in attaining the age of 80, whereas in a way I had had nothing to do with it. It was referred to by more than one person as the big eight-0 and was asked more than once how it felt – as if, overnight, I should have changed into a different person. The truth was, of course, I felt no different to when I went to bed the night before. (R1418)

20 Directives used for the collated database CelebrationsNo. 33Winter 1990 The pace of lifeNo. 36Spring 1992 Growing olderNo. 38Winter 1992 Death and bereavementNo. 42Spring 1994 The futureNo. 53Autumn 1997 Staying well and everyday life No. 55Autumn 1998 Your familyNo. 61Autumn 2000 BirthdaysNo. 67Summer 2002

21 Continuity in responses Number responding: To Birthdays in To Birthdays and Celebrations in To all eight directives between 1990 and

22 W729s 33 rd birthday in 1990 My last birthday - it was the day Len and I went on holiday. Because I don't like and never have been keen on celebrations and, because even now (at 33!) my mother still makes a thing of my birthday if she gets given a chance, I prefer to be away on that day. In 1989 it was a perfect day … in Ireland. This year it was mostly on the A9 … on the way to the Outer Hebrides. The day before, everyone (parents, aunt and uncle) had come over to our house with cards and presents so, on the day, we could get away early. I can't remember what I got … but my Mum did give me a tiny iced cake (four to six inches high and maybe four inches across) and we stopped … at a picnic site and cut this cake. It had one candle and a wide lilac ribbon round the outside. I have a photo of it somewhere, me sitting at the picnic table with cake. We ended up in a lovely bed and breakfast in … and had a lovely seafood meal in a hotel that night. It was a good birthday.

23 W729s 45 rd birthday in 2002 My last birthday was yesterday (July 6th). I was 45 years old and on holiday for a few days in San Francisco. My husband and I went out to a cafe for breakfast and I had French toast with sausage and crispy bacon … Then we caught a Blue and Gold Line ferry to Tiburon, on the other side of the bay … and spent a couple of hours wandering around its little shops and streets. We also had more coffee out on a deck and got the waitress to take a photo of us with the bay behind us. I was really tired at the end of the day. I suppose the celebration bit was the meal at night but, as we were on holiday in a city we'd never been to before, doing things we wanted to do, the whole day was nice. Len gave me a card on the day and, before we came on holiday (a week ago), my parents and Len's parents gave me a cheque for £25 which I banked. I will get something on holiday with the money. … My aunt and uncle gave me money and a card and the card also came with us.

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