The Mass Observation Diaries, with Penny Summerfield and Dorothy Sheridan
This event comprises two talks by Penny Summerfield and Dorothy Sheridan along with a chance to look at some original diaries from the Mass Observation Archive.
Venue: The Keep, Woollards Way, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 9BP
Friday, 2 May 2014 from 13:30 to 17:00
Date: Friday 2nd May 2014, 1.30-5pm
Historians and the Diary: speaking for others and blurring boundaries
Penny Summerfield, University of Manchester
Penny will be reviewing the ways that social and cultural historians have used the diary as a historical source. Such historians value diaries for the intimate glimpses of everyday life that they offer, but they vary in their concerns with the ‘representativeness’ and ‘reliability’ of diaries as historical sources. For some it is important to be able to claim that the diarists they use are representative of the population they are studying and so speak not just for themselves but for the collectivity to which they belong. Others determinedly embrace the exceptionality of the diarist. Historians also vary in their approach to reliability, especially to the issue of whether a diary is more reliable the more ‘private’ it is, raising a number of questions relating to the private/public boundary.
How do historians view the shaping of diaries by public discourses and the effects of intended (and unintended) audiences on diary-writing? And in any case how secure is the boundary between the private and the public? Some historians suggest that the concept of ‘privacy’ is not a universal and that on close scrutiny many seemingly private diaries, not least those written for Mass Observation, blur the boundary.
Penny is Professor of Modern History at the University of Manchester. She is currently working on a book about historians’ uses of personal testimony. She has worked extensively with both oral history and Mass Observation in her research on the social and cultural history of the Second World War.
Editing a diary for publication: the pleasures and pitfalls
Dorothy Sheridan, University of Sussex and Mass Observation Archive Trustee
In the second talk, Dorothy will talk about the process of making a diary public, drawing on her own experience as editor of Among You Taking Notes: the wartime diary of Naomi Mitchison 1939-45. She will explore her own relationship with the diary-writer during the editing process, and raise some ethical and practical questions about investments, privacy, shared authorship and diary research.
Dorothy is a Trustee of the Mass Observation Archive and an Honorary Professor of History at the University of Sussex. Her research interests include the use of life histories and she is a founding member of the Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research at Sussex.
This workshop is a collaboration between the Mass Observation Archive and the Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research.