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A cultural history of stress in twentieth-century Britain
Author: Jill Kirby

Drawing on a wealth of sources including self-help books, Mass Observation diaries and directives, oral history interviews, social science research and popular culture, Feeling the strain examines why stress became the ubiquitous explanation for a range of everyday ills by the end of the twentieth century in Britain. It explores the popular, vernacular discourse of nerves and stress to uncover how ordinary people understood, explained and coped with the pressures and strains of daily life and illuminates not only how stress was known, but the ways in which that knowledge was produced.

By focusing on contemporary popular understandings, it reveals continuity of ideas about work, mental health, status, gender and individual weakness, as well as the socio-economic contexts that enabled stress to become the accepted explanation for a wide range of daily experiences. It foregrounds continuities in managing stress and changes in ideas about causation, revealing a vocabulary of ‘nerves’ and ‘nervous disorders’ as precursors to stress but also illustrating the mutability of the stress concept and how its very imprecision gave it utility.

Feeling the strain provides first-hand accounts from sufferers, families and colleagues and offers insight into self-help literature, the meanings of work and changing dynamics of domestic life over the century, delivering a complementary perspective to medical histories of stress and making a significant contribution to histories of everyday life and emotion in Britain during the twentieth century.

Community, identity and social memory
Author: Ben Jones

The idea of Brighton as a hot-bed of radical class-consciousness in inter-war Britain is an unconventional one. That the dominant images of working class England in the middle years of the twentieth century are 'northern' or metropolitan is thanks to a flowering of community and cultural studies for which the research of Mass Observation provided important antecedents. This book argues that a consideration of Richard Hoggart's critics allows us to open up an important set of questions for discussion. It commences with an exploration of class identifications in England since the 1940s. The experience of and meanings attached to class change for individuals across their lives in relation to historically shifting formations of class within cultures. The book then focuses on the twin modernising forces which reshaped working class neighbourhoods in the period between the 1920s and the mid-1970s: slum clearance and council housing. It explores the ways in which people's senses of belonging to and identification with particular neighbourhoods were formed. Conflicts over the transgression of neighbourhood norms regarding acceptable behaviour, arguments over children's noise, over help which went unreciprocated, debts which went unpaid and domestic or intra-family violence were also a feature of neighbourhood life. Through the contested, multivalent remembered experiences of past communities, the complex, relational construction of social memories can be seen. The book also explores the dynamics of working class household economies and examines the continuities which existed between the modern council estates and older districts in terms of cultures of economic and emotional resourcefulness.

Popular responses to the outbreak of war
Grace Huxford

Parallel was and were unclear as to why Korea was significant to world affairs. The first seeds of Korea’s subsequent omission from national memory and memorial culture lie in this lack of clarity during the first few months. This chapter first explores the utility of MO surveys and diaries to the social history of the war, before exploring responses in detail, alongside television and newspaper reports from the early months of the war. Mass Observation, ‘ordinary’ people and the Korean War Some of the most detailed reflections on the outbreak of war are to be found in

in The Korean War in Britain
Open Access (free)
Robert Mackay

of the war Home Intelligence monitored these indicators in an almost obsessional way, taking the public’s pulse by what it thought, felt and said. In rather the same way, the independent social research organization Mass-Observation – which, on commission for the Ministry of Information, made the charting of civilian morale one of its regular tasks – attached great importance to people’s states of mind, measuring the fluctuations in cheerfulness, how much people were interested in the war news and whether they were optimistic about victory or the future more

in Half the battle
Open Access (free)
Robert Mackay

1943 when she heard that nearby Newbury had been bombed in daylight and children in school had been killed: ‘If this had happened earlier in the war people would have stopped sending their children in to school in Newbury. Now, it’s as if being bombed by the Germans was one of the hazards of life, like being run over by a motor car, and there was no use trying to avoid it.’ Mollie Panter-Downes, too, noticed how the perception of reduced risk led thousands of evacuees to return to London in August 1941 a development that Mass-Observation warningly described as ‘signs

in Half the battle
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Jill Kirby

sense of ‘not expert’ and ‘common’ that imbues the approach taken in this book. Here ‘ordinary’ does not necessarily indicate working-class, as suggested by Selina Todd, but represents the experience of people who were not experts and did not deem themselves to be unusual or in any way significant. As Dorothy Sheridan and David Bloome found in their study of writers for Mass Observation (MO), people labelled themselves as ‘ordinary’ in opposition to other categories such as ‘the posh’ or ‘the media’, and it is in this sense that ordinary is understood in the

in Feeling the strain
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O’Faoláin and the descent of The Bell
Niall Carson

magazine would take. Coronation day was chosen by Charles Madge and Humphrey Jennings to inaugurate their ground-breaking social research into the lives of ordinary people in England, research that provided the inspiration for many subsequent studies and laid the foundations of the Mass Observation movement. Their findings were published in May the Twelfth Mass Observation Day-Surveys by over Two Hundred Observers (1937).2 The Mass Observation movement was a new form of collective research, and it promised to categorise the responses of ordinary people: in this instance

in Rebel by vocation
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David W. Gutzke

, historians, notably Drs Moss and Gleiss, have attached weight to the statistics collected by Mass-Observation. Yet, modern polling using sophisticated random sampling Gutzke_WomenDrinking.indd 7 22/11/2013 11:02 8 Women drinking out in Britain techniques to analyse drinking behaviour occurred first in 1949. Tom Harrisson, co-founder of Mass-Observation, had a predilection for impressionistic over statistical evidence that profoundly influenced how it collected and interpreted evidence.31 Fixation with numbers has meant that historians have overlooked Ernest Selley

in Women drinking out in Britain since the early twentieth century
Working-class men, dancing and the renegotiation of masculinity in interwar Britain
Klaus Nathaus and James Nott

at every level of the manual working class, from the bound apprentice to the “scum of the slum”, fox-trotted through the new bliss in each other’s arms.’ 13 Young men were particularly keen on dancing; indeed, they were amongst the most habitual dancers in the country. This was the group that made visits to the dance hall three, four or even more times a week. Tom Harrisson’s Mass Observation survey of Bolton dance halls in the late 1930s identified and analysed the impact on the community of these

in Worlds of social dancing
Open Access (free)
Robert Mackay

the sort of sentiment that drove a former First World War general, F. P. Crozier, to become a pacifist, convinced that defence had become useless and that German bombers could reduce England to chaos and starvation in a few weeks.42 Mass-Observation monitored public expectations of war in the last two years of peace. It found that despite the rumours of war, the recurrent international crises and the visible evidence of ARP, there was only low expectation that war would come soon, or ever, and widespread cynicism about government information. People had a fairly

in Half the battle