Yesterday I attended the opening plenary session of the annual conference of the International Association of Media and Communication Research at the University of Leicester. I heard excellent speeches first from Professor Graham Murdock, Professor of Culture and Economy at Loughborough…
A few months ago I spent over 80 hours in The Keep, an archive near Brighton, reading the written thoughts and memories of 235 people on the subject of the Second World War. This material was collected by the Mass Observation Project, an initiative that originating during the war but was revived in 1981 to record the thoughts and experiences of people in the UK on a variety of topics. The project recruits volunteers to make up a national writing panel. They are sent ‘directives’ which ask them questions about certain topics and then they write responses and send them back in. These anonymous texts make up a fantastic resource for researchers as they cover so many topics including current events.
My research focuses on how people remember the Second World War today, and in particular how they remember materials created by the Ministry of Information during the war. This Mass Observation material has been a really useful starting point for me, as I have been able to read people’s accounts of their own memories and thought processes and pick out references they make to the Ministry of Information. I will be presenting the results of this research at this year’s International Association for Media and Communication Research Conference at the University of Leicester.
But beyond the content analysis that I conducted, which focuses closely on the core aims of my research project, there are some more general observations I’d like to explore here. Reading this material has been an amazing experience. It is so fascinating to spend time reading the individual thoughts and feelings of ordinary people, often presented in stream-of-consciousness fashion. Many of the responses flow so naturally, as the writer’s thoughts turn from one specific memory to wider topics and emotions rise and fall and spur them on to the next topic. Some of the stories people share are so moving and others really funny – reading these genuinely did make me laugh and cry!
Here are just a few things that really struck me while working on the Mass Observation archive:
Recently we’ve seen a bit of a craze for infographics: they are appearing in dedicated coffee table books on every subject, you now find them frequently in newspapers, magazines and online articles and all over social media. It is likely that social media has had some influence on this, since infographics make it easier for complex and often dull information to be shared within an eye-catching 140 characters with just a couple of clicks. Additionally it is now much easier to produce infographics with the availability of easy-to-use free software.
However, people have always wanted to share information with the public and visual images have always been a successful method of attracting attention. While that word ‘infographic’ only began to appear in the second half of the 20th century, they have existed in media under other names as soon as printing technology allowed them to.
One period when these kinds of images came into their own was during the Second World War, when graphic design techniques were flourishing and information needed to be controlled and disseminated quickly and successfully.
Since leaving university I’ve been missing the organised educational experience in getting my history fix. While reading and documentary watching are great, I’ve been becoming increasingly addicted to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and particularly those offered by FutureLearn. FutureLearn…