Observing the 1980s brings together, for the first time, ‘voices’ from both the Mass Observation Collections and the British Library Oral History Collections.  This material offers a unique and inspiring insight into the lives and opinions of British people from all social classes and regions during the 1980s.

The value of digitising these collections and disseminating them as open educational resources is that currently no established historiography of the 1980s exists.  The decade is largely represented as polarised and the work that does exist is similarly divided into oppositional camps.  By bringing together these resources, students and academics will be able to make and illustrate connections across and between these polarised approaches.  Additionally, a key benefit for educators at all levels is in the raw nature of the information and its potential use across subject areas such as politics, sociology, oral history, cultural and media studies, linguistics, gender studies, narrative and memory studies, migration studies, folklore studies, anthropology and contemporary history.

We have selected 23 men and women of different ages, from different social backgrounds who write for Mass Observation, and chosen extracts from their writing over the whole decade.  Similarly, we have selected 26  interviews from the British Library Oral History Collections to provide complementary audio extracts and to ensure a broad coverage of key themes.

The material will be digitised and offered as an open educational resource embedded into the University of Sussex VLE (using open Moodle software) and offered on an open ‘guest access’ Moodle site.  It will also be available from the Talis Aspire reading list system at Sussex, using the Labspace facility on the OpenLearn Open University site and through HumBox and JORUM as well as via other educational resource sites such as the British Library.

The project supports institutional goals relating to inspirational teaching and enriching the student experience.  It also increases the accessibility of the Mass Observation and British Library Oral History Collections, and enhances opportunities for innovative collaborative research and project partnerships among the academic community.

Click here to see our project plan


Check out our media coverage.

12 January 2012 BBC News

19 January 2012 Times Higher Ed

14 February 2012 – BBC South Today

30 May 2012 BBC Radio 4 Today programme

21 April 2012 – The Sun more generally about Mass Observation

26 December 2012 BBC Radio 4 Today programme – Mass Observation was the guest editor and Dr Lucy Robinson a contributor

15 January 2013 – BBC Radio 4 Making History – Dr Lucy Robinson

24 February – The Guardian

9 April 2013 – BBC news South East Today – Dr Lucy Robinson talking about Thatcher’s legacy

May 2013 – Cilip

2 August 2013 – The Guardian – Readers submit pictures of their mantelpiece

19 October 2013 – BBC Radio 4, Archive on 4 – Fiona Courage and Jessica Scantlebury talk about how the Mass Observation Project  has recorded time.

18 November 2013- BBC News – 10 things we have learnt from Mass Observation

21 January 2014 – BBc Radio 4, The Human Zoo – Dr Lucy Robinson


Archive Review: ‘Observing the 80s’ by Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite in Twentieth Century British History first published online April 8, 2014

‘New Times’: Historicizing 1980s Britain by Stephen Brooke in History CompassVolume 12, Issue 1, pages 20–32, January 2014

The Team

Meet the project team:

Jane Harvell – Project Lead (Head of Academic Services)

Jill Kirby – Project Manager

Lucy Robinson – Lecturer, Contemporary History

Fiona Courage – Special Collections Manager & Mass Observation Curator

Stuart Lamour – User Experience developer

Jessica Scantlebury – Senior Archive Assistant

Also working with us as a consultant is Professor Dorothy Sheridan

Additional work for the Observing 1980s project was also undertaken by:

Samantha Fennessy, Ruth Kelly and Beth Howgate Rachel Lepley, Rebecca Rowe, Claire Chevalier-Nash, Ella Hunter Johnson and several others also did research on the ephemera which enabled us to make the selection of documents for publications selection of the resource.

Charlie Green, Lucy Zabaneh, Emma Whale, Sophie Morsman, Max Levy, Glenn Raymond, Tom Guha, Lily Winslow, Amanuel Tewodros, Rachael Welsh Michael Whitehead were interviewed for the Observing 1980s film, which was made by Kevin Reynolds.

Cataloguing work was undertaken by Karen Watson (Special Collections, University of Sussex) and Alexa Neale.  Rose Holmes putting links into the OER and Rose Lock (Special Collections, University of Suusex) made the AR app.

David Guest (ITS, University of Sussex) made the infographics for us and Suzanne Rose and Kirsty Pattrick (Special Collections, University of Sussex) have run numerous outrach sessions using the material.