Undergraduate Research Scholarship project 2020
Department of English Language and Linguistics
In 1937, an organisation called Mass Observation (M-O) was set up to observe the minutiae of everyday British life, including the talk of ordinary people on street corners, in buses and pubs.
M-O used their observations of everyday talk to advise politicians on how to communicate with the people. In WWII, M-O encouraged the Government to develop a personalised ‘language of leadership’ based on their ideas about how ordinary people talked.
This project focuses on the couple of years before the War (1937-1939), during which M-O put a lot of energy into investigating life in Bolton (‘Worktown’). It asks two broad questions:
- What did M-O have to say about everyday talk in Worktown, and how did they find out about it?
- What did they have to say about political language in Worktown, to whom did they say it, and how did they find out about it?
What you will do
- Conduct searches of the M-O digital archive (http://www.massobservation.amdigital.co.uk) to find documents relevant to the questions above.
- Download and record details of those documents using a system to be agreed in the early stages of the project.
- Produce a timeline of M-O comments on everyday talk and political language in Worktown, in order to develop an understanding of how their ideas about political language developed in the years before World War II.
- Interest in the ways in which language is used in British politics and in vernacular British English, and/or in mid-twentieth century British social history (though no particular knowledge will be assumed here)
- Basic knowledge of linguistic concepts such as ‘accent’, ‘vernacular’, ‘standard English’
- Ability to conduct keyword searches and to download and keep records of documents, using a computer programme such as Excel or Word (exact process to be agreed)
- Willingness to read through quite large amounts of very interesting but often sketchy and hard to decipher hand-written material (applicants could try a few searches of the archive to see what I mean if they wish)
How will the project benefit you?
- The material in the Mass Observation archive is fascinating, and, in terms of the questions we are asking here, underexplored – there’s plenty to be found out about this very significant moment in British social, political and linguistic history!
- The Mass Observation archive is a well-organised and well-documented online archive, so it provides a nice introduction to working with social-historical archives.