Tuesday 12 May is the Mass Observation Archive’s National Diary Day, and we’re calling on Manchester residents to get involved. 

The idea of the diary day is to capture a day in the life of as many people as possible in the UK.  This year is particularly significant, as the Covid-19 crisis has impacted on every’s lives and given so many people of different kind of everyday life.  The first one-day diary day was on 12 May 1937, where Mass Observation asked people to keep a diary of everything they did from getting up in the morning to going to bed at night.

Anyone can join in with this year’s diary day, and submissions can be sent in by email, or in hard copy after the lockdown ends.  If you’d like write about life in lockdown as part of this national campaign, there is more information about how to get involved here. You can also get involved on the day on Twitter by using the hashtag #12May20.

Mass Observation was founded in January 1937 by Tom Harrisson, Humphrey Jennings and Charles Madge.  All three were interested in a concept of “anthropology of ourselves” – the study of ordinary, everyday life.  They organised volunteers to work as National Panel of Diarists, who fed their observations back to the team in London.  They also developed the Worktown Project, which looked specifically at Bolton. A team of investigators went in to various different public situations and recorded people’s behaviours and conversations.  This created a documentary account of sport and leisure activities, domestic and work life, religious occasions and so on.  Bill Naughton, the Bolton playwright and author of Alfie and Spring and Port Wine, was one of the few working class observers who worked on the project.

Mass Observation continued to operate until the early 1950s, and in 1970, the material it has created was donated to the University of Sussex Archives, and now forms part of the collections held by The Keep.  In 1981 the idea of a National Panel was revived from the archive.  Each year, Mass Observation issues three directives (or questionnaires) to a national panel of volunteer writers, or observers, who work as citizen journalists to provide a window on their world.  In 2010, Mass Observation extended the way it collects everyday life by reviving the 12 May National Diary Project.