England

Thatcher's Britain revealed in Mass Observation Archive

  • 12 January 2012
  • From the section England
Collection of 80s artefacts from the Mass Observation Archive
Image caption The Mass Observation Archive is based at the University of Sussex

It was a decade of drama - miner's strikes, the Falklands war, IRA terrorism and the discovery of Aids.

But life on a more domestic level in the 1980s will be opened up for further study this summer.

First hand accounts, written by volunteers, of their daily lives and views were collected throughout the decade as part of the Mass Observation Archive.

The ambitious project, which ran from the 1930s to 1950s and then from the 1980s onwards, recorded personal details about life in Britain, through diaries and observations.

These - along with oral history recordings from British Library's sound archive - will be digitised and made available online.

'Internet revolution'

Historian Dr Lucy Robinson, from the University of Sussex where the Mass Observation Archive is based, said the 1980s will be recognised as the last era before the internet changed the world.

"The 1980s is attractive to historians because the decade is both close enough and far away enough to allow us to explore the limits of historical perspective and offers a diverse range of subjects in what was the last era before the internet revolution," she said.

The project, called Observing the 1980s, will be available to universities, schools and researchers.

The legacy of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher is of particular interest to many of the volunteers, who were each given a serial number to protect their identities.

Talking about the Falkland's war, Mr R470, an HGV driver, from Essex, said: "If we bottle out of taking any direct action we abdicate as a world power. We should then reduce our armed forces to a Home Guard and a few Home Defence fighter squadrons."

Image caption Volunteers gave their views on global issues like the cold war

Mrs S496, an egg collector and grader at a battery chicken farm in Devon, said: "Working people like us do not want war, we don't want to pay for things like Trident.

"We don't want American bases in our country, in fact working people like us are basically quite happy with what we have and all the aggro that goes on just worries us."

Mr G2134, formerly a hot metal typesetter, from Surrey, said: "Future historians will look back upon the 80s as the decade of ruthless Conservative government."

But Mrs G218, a part-time industrial cleaner and typist, from Stowmarket, in Suffolk, said: "I am totally non-political but had to admire Maggie Thatcher for her strength through the [Falklands] crisis."

The project will benefit from £100,000 funding by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), which is an education and research body paid for by higher education funding councils.

Rob Perks, lead curator of oral history at the British Library, said the project will show a "key shift" in British society.

"The 1980s saw the highest levels of unemployment since the 1930s, tumultuous public protest and conflict between the state and labour, and what was arguably the last 'imperial' war," he said.

It is hoped the project will be available this summer in time for the archive's 75th anniversary.

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