Published on July 9, 2007
Exploring the potential: Examining archived data at Mass Observation and ESDS QualidataThursday 19 January 2006The Library, University of Sussex: Exploring the potential: Examining archived data at Mass Observation and ESDS Qualidata Thursday 19 January 2006 The Library, University of Sussex Catching the train a different way of doing research Bill Bytheway, Open University Acknowledgements: Acknowledgements This paper is based on research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (RES- 000-22-0566) It draws on evidence from: the Mass-Observation Archive at the University of Sussex, the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and the Tony Benn Diary Archive Aims of the Birthdays Project: Aims of the Birthdays Project to collect and analyse evidence about the social significance of birthdays and about how birthdays contribute to a personal sense of ageing Data for the Birthdays Project: Data for the Birthdays Project Published autobiographical writing: Published autobiographical writing Memoirs Diaries Correspondences Autobiographies etc. Potential strengths dated continuing Potential weaknesses self-promoting Selective and edited approved Some birthday entries in some famous diaries: Some birthday entries in some famous diaries May Sarton writing shortly before her 84th birthday: May Sarton writing shortly before her 84th birthday I mostly simply feel ill, feel ‘not well’, feel that something serious is wrong which I cannot control and which I don’t understand. The doctor seems to think I am in fine shape, and thank goodness, I heard yesterday that I can drive as soon as I feel able to. I think I’ll wait till after my birthday. Then I will start driving; it will be a tremendous freedom to be able to do that. (Sarton 1996: 295) Tony Benn’s diary entry on his 45th birthday: 3rd April 1970 My 45th birthday. Had the usual family ritual with people coming in with presents and I got a lovely summer nightshirt from Carol and various other things. Tony Benn’s diary entry on his 45th birthday Tony Benn’s diary entry two days before his 60th birthday: 1st April 1985 I have had five invitations to go on chat shows, because it's my sixtieth birthday on Wednesday. I suppose when you reach sixty the journalists think they can rehabilitate you as an eccentric, lovable old character. Tony Benn’s diary entry two days before his 60th birthday Tony Benn’s diary entry on his 75th birthday: 3rd April 2000 My seventy-fifth birthday. … I had put a note in to the Speaker saying that I'd like to ask a question about pensions during Social Security questions, and obligingly she called me. I made a strong point about linking pensions to earnings, and in reply Alistair Darling, the Social Security Secretary, wished me a happy birthday and said that he was sure I was looking forward to my free television licence – which really was an insulting response. Tony Benn’s diary entry on his 75th birthday The ONS Omnibus SurveyQuestion 1 : The ONS Omnibus Survey Question 1 The ONS Omnibus SurveyQuestion 2: The ONS Omnibus Survey Question 2 “I enjoy celebrating my birthdays”: 'I enjoy celebrating my birthdays' Strengths of M-O for research: Strengths of M-O for research A panel of several hundred anonymous, ‘ordinary people’ Longitudinal, dating back to 1981 More representative than published autobiographical writing Offers thoughts and experiences in the writers’ own words Complements and amplifies survey data Weaknesses of M-O for research: Weaknesses of M-O for research over-time comparisons not easy not statistically representative no opportunity to engage directly with writers The Birthdays Directive June 2002: The Birthdays Directive June 2002 Panellists were invited to ‘explore’ six areas: ‘your previous birthday’ ‘people who remember your birthday’ ‘people whose birthdays you like to remember’ ‘your most memorable birthday’ ‘the significance of birthdays’ ‘what you record in a seven-day diary’ On my birthday I tend to feel my age: On my birthday I tend to feel my age ' When it was my sixtieth I told my daughters I did not want to have a party or any fuss made. This business of making a do of the ‘0’ birthdays has come about fairly recently in my lifetime – I don’t like it – it just emphasises the fact that one is getting older. ' (P1637) No different to any other day: No different to any other day ' My last birthday was on September 25th 2001, and I became 64 years old. It was a Tuesday and I did the normal work for that day, vacuumed, dusted, but as it was a lovely sunny day, sat out in the garden as well. ' (W571) A special day: A special day 'It was as though I had accomplished something extraordinary in attaining the age of 80, whereas in a way I had had nothing to do with it. It was referred to by more than one person as the big eight-0 and was asked more than once how it felt – as if, overnight, I should have changed into a different person. The truth was, of course, I felt no different to when I went to bed the night before.' (R1418) Directives used for the collated database: Directives used for the collated database Continuity in responses: Continuity in responses W729’s 33rd birthday in 1990: W729’s 33rd birthday in 1990 'My last birthday - it was the day Len and I went on holiday. Because I don't like and never have been keen on celebrations and, because even now (at 33!) my mother still makes a thing of my birthday if she gets given a chance, I prefer to be away on that day. In 1989 it was a perfect day … in Ireland. This year it was mostly on the A9 … on the way to the Outer Hebrides. The day before, everyone (parents, aunt and uncle) had come over to our house with cards and presents so, on the day, we could get away early. I can't remember what I got … but my Mum did give me a tiny iced cake (four to six inches high and maybe four inches across) and we stopped … at a picnic site and cut this cake. It had one candle and a wide lilac ribbon round the outside. I have a photo of it somewhere, me sitting at the picnic table with cake. We ended up in a lovely bed and breakfast in … and had a lovely seafood meal in a hotel that night. It was a good birthday.' W729’s 45rd birthday in 2002: W729’s 45rd birthday in 2002 'My last birthday was yesterday (July 6th). I was 45 years old and on holiday for a few days in San Francisco. My husband and I went out to a cafe for breakfast and I had French toast with sausage and crispy bacon … Then we caught a Blue and Gold Line ferry to Tiburon, on the other side of the bay … and spent a couple of hours wandering around its little shops and streets. We also had more coffee out on a deck and got the waitress to take a photo of us with the bay behind us. I was really tired at the end of the day. I suppose the celebration bit was the meal at night but, as we were on holiday in a city we'd never been to before, doing things we wanted to do, the whole day was nice. Len gave me a card on the day and, before we came on holiday (a week ago), my parents and Len's parents gave me a cheque for £25 which I banked. I will get something on holiday with the money. … My aunt and uncle gave me money and a card and the card also came with us.'