Mass appeal

Mass appeal

March 2, 2015


[Queen's in the World]
Queen's in the World

First-year students at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) recently visited the archives at The Keep. Among the material housed in The Keep is the University of Sussex’s Mass Observation Archive, rich and unique personal accounts of everyday life in the U.K. during the 20th and 21st centuries.

[Jill Kirby]
Jill Kirby worked on Observing the 80s, an extensive project that examined the lives and opinions of British people in the 1980s. She draws on that experience as a faculty member at the Bader International Study Centre. 

To navigate the vast archive, the BISC students received expert guidance from their professor Jill Kirby, who gained extensive experience working with material from the Mass Observation Archive as the project manager for Observing the 80s. Using material from the Mass Observation Archive and the British Library Oral History collections, the Observing the 80s project created open educational resources that offered insight into the lives and opinions of British people in the 1980s.

Dr. Kirby, who is also a research fellow in mass observation studies at the University of Sussex, says she enjoys introducing BISC students to the Mass Observation Archive.

“When my first-year seminar groups visited The Keep, I was able to contextualise the material they looked at, and now some of them are planning to use the material for their current assignment,” she says. “I was really happy to see that they can access the digitised collection via Queen’s Library as it is an amazing resource for historians and social scientists alike.”

Dr. Kirby’s first experience at the BISC came in the summer of 2014 when she visited the Field School in Digital Humanities and gave a lecture about her work on Observing the 80s. Soon after that lecture, she joined the teaching team for BISC100/101, a core course that’s part of the new first-year program at the Castle. “Thinking Locally/Acting Globally” provides students with key skills and theories from across a number of disciplines. She also teaches an upper-year course on British culture that allows her to draw on a wide range of historical and cultural sources.

Dr. Kirby believes her work on Observing the 80s gives students a deeper and more nuanced understanding of British culture.

“For our students, respondents and voices from the Mass Observation Archive and the British Library Oral History collection help them unpack the mythologized version of the 1980s that abounds in popular culture,” she says. “The participants in these projects related the everyday, what was important to them, which is often at odds with the overarching narrative of politics and disasters.”

In addition to her work at the BISC and the University of Sussex, Dr. Kirby is continuing to research her book on stress in Britain in the 20th century. Part of that research includes looking at the Mass Observation Archive to better understand how people’s attitudes toward stress moved from stoicism to victimhood.

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