Tag Archives: archives

Mass Observation Archive

There are lots of specialist archives around the country which may help students here at RHUL.

One of these is the Mass Observation Archive which is based at The Keep in Falmer (near Brighton) in Sussex. The archive contains lots of material about everyday life in Britain on a large range of topice. The original Mass Observation social research organisation (1937 to early 1950s) collected lots of material via questionnaires, interviews and diaries. The Victoria Wood play Housewife, 49 (available on BoB ) is based on one Mass Observation diarist. Newer material has been collected continuously since 1981.

We also have access to the Mass Observation Archive online.

I used the archive when I was studying for my MA Film Studies as part of my dissertation on Women, Romance and World War II. The archive interviewed and collected information on all sorts of topic including film and was an invaluable resource to me. (It even surveyed cinema queues)

Books and journal articles can tell you a lot but the material here is primary resources, written by ordinary people. From the archives I learnt a lot more than I could have done just from reading books or even contemporary newspaper articles.

Amongst the things I found out were:

“Almost invariably the Nazi salute has resulted in laughter from the audience while anti-war talk has been received with great interest.” (17/3/A: Film Questionnaire 1939)

One questionnaire asked for suggestions on how cinemas should be improved –

“Patrons cars should be washed and polished for free whilst in a cinema’s car park.”

“That a rigid ban should be imposed on the consumption of peanuts.” (BOX 2: FILMS 1936 – 42, 17/2/A: The Bernstein Report)


In an Interview with the Manager of  Classic Cinema Tooting. On Thursday 16th November 1939

“Our business is kept by women. In wartime they have husbands and sons serving, say sons, your age, who they know have got no life, they have sacrificed everything, they’ve got to mix with Tom, Dick and Harry, and may lose an arm or a leg. That’s the woman’s view. Therefore in the suburban halls we leave war films entirely alone.”

(TC 17 Box 4)

This really gave me a sense of what the actual cinema-going public were thinking and helped me to form my research as it reminded me that indeed the men would be off fighting so women would want less war and more escapism.

There were also surveys of the 1536  letters to Picturegoer magazine in 1940. This included an analysis of topics covered, 47% were about stars and 55% were written by men. Whilst the books I was reading were telling me all about the soldiers and the war this helped me shape the idea that people were turning to the cinema for escapism and even taking the time to write to magazines about it. These letters also drew attention to the fact that Deanna Durbin was one of the most popular stars at this time, not something I was able to find out elsewhere where the books and contemporary accounts are often written by critics and don’t necessarily reflect public opinion.

My favourite box of treasures was FILMS M36-50 Box 1 as this contained reports from the Mass Observation correspondents.

Gems from this include this overheard conversation reported by G.L. Wallace:

1. “ I suppose it will be a long time before we shall see “Gone With The Wind” here, did you see in the paper that they weren’t to let people in for under 2/6?”

2. “No, not really, still I suppose it is a long film, four hours long isn’t it?”

1. “I read 3 hours and 41 minutes, still the book was very long.”

2. “I never read the book, that sort of stuff bores me.”

1. “Well, I hope they have the film here, my Gert (?her daughter) wants to see it awful badly”

Gone With the Wind was released and in terms of tickets sold is still the most successful film at the British Box office (BFI. 2010. The Ultimate Film, 4/9/2006 2004 [cited 03/07/2010 2010]. Available from http://www.bfi.org.uk/features/ultimatefilm/) – people obviously did part with their 2/6 but nowhere else did I find anything about the fact that people were discussing it.

Joyce Ausden:

“Children, by the way, are amused at the sight of any Germans “Goose Stepping,” they shout with decisive laughter. They also boo loudly at any picture of Hitler.”

G.L. Wallace:

“Wartime cinema audiences are definitely more responsive than they were before the war, except possibly for the short period immediately before the outbreak. With regard to chorus-singing, for instance. People will sing perfectly happily in a music-hall, and extremely unwillingly in a cinema, yet, when I went to one of our larger local cinemas on the evening of Sept. 2nd, everyone, myself included, bawled happily at the tops of their voices. This chorus-singing, mainly with an organ, is catered for to a much larger extent since the war. Quite a different aspect of people’s rather free-and-easy attitude in the cinema was shown by the fact that quite large numbers of the audience booed and hissed when Hitler appeared on the screen. Rude remarks were shouted too such as “I’d like to wring his bloody neck”, and “Pity somebody doesn’t bump him off.” These, however, have died down not, although there are occasional humorous remarks when any members of the German Government appear on the screen. The sudden outburst of songs and jokes about them have made the German Cabinet appear to the average man in this country to be a secondary “Crazy Gang.”

“The Blackout has made a great deal of difference to cinema-going in this district. On a normal weekday night (except Saturday) when the weather is reasonably fine about the same number of people go to the cinema as in peace-time. But if the night is at all cloudy or unpleasantly wet, the number is very much smaller than usual. Before the war the cinemas on Saturday night were packed and many people had to queue up and stand, now however the cinemas are no fuller on a Saturday night than on any other night. There has been a great increase in the number of people going to the first performances (approx 2-5) and also to the second house while the last house is often fairly empty, depending on the weather conditions etc.”

I could never have achieved such a rich picture of cinema-going in wartime without the Mass Observation Archive. You can access it online here.

Helen Rimmer

What is the USC Shoah Archive?

The USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive contains 50,000 digitized interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust. Interviews are approximately two and a half hours long and some are supplemented with photographs, documents, and artifacts pertaining to the interviewee’s family and wartime experiences.

Interviewees speak on the following topics:

  • Jewish Survivors
  • Rescuers and Aid Providers
  • Sinti and Roma Survivors
  • Liberators and Liberation Witnesses
  • Political Prisoners
  • Jehovah’s Witness Survivors
  • War Crimes Trials Participants
  • Survivors of Eugenics Policies
  • Homosexual Survivors

In April 2013, the Visual History Archive expanded to include a collection of 65 audiovisual testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi genocide. Conducted in two countries (U.S.A. and Rwanda), and two languages (English and Kinyarwanda), this initial collection of 65 Rwandan testimonies was accomplished in collaboration with Aegis Trust and the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

In February 2014, 12 audiovisual testimonies of survivors of the 1937-38 Nanjing Massacre were integrated into the VHA. These testimonies are in Mandarin and were conducted in Nanjing, China through a partnership with the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall.

It’s a unique resource, and Royal Holloway Library is the only place in the UK with access to the collection – which means that researchers often come from far and wide to view the videos.

How do I use it?

There is a link on the Databases A-Z, under U, and once you’re on the site, you will need to create an account in order to log in, search, and view videos.

  1. Follow the link to the website
    • If on-campus, no login is needed to access the website
    • If off-campus, you will need to sign in with your Royal Holloway computer username and password
  2. Once on the website, you must register to create a personal username and password
  3. Due to high bandwidth, videos to be viewed must be downloaded to Royal Holloway’s servers rather than viewed directly from USC website.
    • Some videos already downloaded and available for immediate viewing; just click on the videos marked “Viewable now” to watch
    • Others must be requested for download. Because our server space is limited, students must get tutor’s permission before requesting a download.
  4. Once requested, the video will be added to Royal Holloway’s servers and will be available to view after 12-48 hours. Videos can only be viewed on campus, but you are able to log in and make a request for a video to be downloaded from any off-campus PC.

Searching the archive

Searching is easy, you can search on a topic, for a name, and use links in the videos to skip to particular sections relevant to your interests. The USC Shoah Foundation has a YouTube Channel with lots of information, but we’ve collected searching tips in this playlist.

Have you used the archive? Do you think it would be useful in your research? Contact library@rhul.ac.uk for more information, or leave a comment below.

RHUL’s Archive Collections

RHC PH/207/9
Students in a classroom at Royal Holloway College 1899

As Library Loves… Archives month draws to a close this post will tell you a bit about the collections we hold here at Royal Holloway. If you haven’t made it to one of our Explore Your Archive sessions you may still be in the dark as to what we actually have. The collections can be split into two main groups: institutional records and special collections.


Institutional Records

These are records which have been created by RHUL or its predecessors.  In the 1980s Royal Holloway and Bedford Colleges merged together to form RHUL and we have the records of both the Colleges in the archives. Bedford College was the first to open (in 1849 in central London) and was the first higher education college for women in the country. Royal Holloway followed a few years later and was opened by Queen Victoria in 1886. Both collections hold records from the opening of the Colleges including foundation deeds and trust documents as well as photographs, committee minutes, papers of student societies, student and staff records, College and student publications among many other things!

We also continue to collect records from the College today so that future researchers can look back at how the College operates now. This newer material isn’t always catalogued – it’s an ongoing process! So if you want to look at something which you can’t find in the catalogue get in touch and we can see if we have it.


Special Collections

Different repositories use the term ‘special collection’ to mean different things (something which puzzled me a lot when I first started working in archives!) but here we call any collection that has been created/collected outside the College and then donated to us a special collection. Our special collections include rare book collections as well as archives but I’m just going to focus on the archive special collections in this post.

Our main collecting area for special collections is theatre archives. We have three collections from theatre companies – Gay Sweatshop, Half Moon and Red Shift. All three contain similar records relating to the running of the company and the productions they put on. This includes administrative and financial records, scripts, promotional material (including flyers and posters) and photographs of productions. We also have two ephemera collections: the Coton collection which contains material relating to ballet and other forms of dance including photographs, postcards and programmes; and the Roy Waters collection which is the largest of our theatre collections. Roy Waters was a theatre enthusiast who spend 40 years of his life collecting anything and everything to do with the theatre. The collection is hugely varied and includes postcards, posters, playbills, programmes, autographed letters from famous actors and actresses and much much more!

We also have the Alfred Sherman papers which cover Sherman’s role as an advisor to Margaret Thatcher and the Anselm Hughes collection which are the personal and research papers of a liturgical music scholar.


You can find out more about all of our collections through our website: www.rhul.ac.uk/archives which also has a link to the online catalogue and our contact details.


If you don’t think our collections would be of use to you in your research but would like to find other collections which would be take a look at our previous blog about finding archives in the UK: http://libraryblog.rhul.ac.uk/2013/11/14/finding-archives-uk/

Annabel Gill, College Archivist

Five minutes with the College Archivist

College Archivist
College Archivist, Annabel Gill

Annabel Gill is the College Archivst for RHUL and is based in Founder’s library. Find out more about our collections at www.rhul.ac.uk/archives

How long have you been working at Royal Holloway?

I took over from the previous College Archivist in January 2012 so I’ve been here just under two years.

 Tell us a little about your role.

When I tell people I’m an Archivist the most common reaction is a blank look (although I have been mistaken for an Alchemist on more than one occasion), in the most basic terms I look after the historical records of the College but that description doesn’t really do the job justice. We hold collections from Bedford and Royal Holloway Colleges and from the merged College as well as special collections which include theatre archive material and collections of rare books. My work is really varied, some days I’ll be in the stores checking our pest traps for any unwanted insects or going through new material to sort, list and then catalogue it so it can be used by researchers. Other days are spent answering enquiries about our collections and supervising researchers who have come in to consult the material. I also promote the collections in a number of ways including writing our Archive Item of the Month feature, putting on exhibitions and events, giving talks on the collections and history of the College and running student sessions about using archives. Preservation of the collections is another important part of the job and I am currently working with other staff to find ways to preserve digital records as well as the more traditional paper material.

 What motivates you?

Helping people make connections with history through our collections – whether that is a theatre student in awe that she is holding a letter written by Ellen Terry, being told that your email has made someone’s year because the information in a student record has filled gaps in their family history or hearing current students discussing the similarities between Victorian student rooms and their own. The archives contain such a wealth of information and I’m here to help people discover it.

What do you love about your job?

The variety! No two days are the same and I’m constantly learning new things about the Colleges’ histories from the collections and also from people I meet who tell me about their research or their own experiences at the Colleges.

Library Loves … Archives


Throughout November

the Library will be celebrating Archives

Have you ever wondered what collections we have, how to find other collections, how to use archives in your research or what actual is an archive? Then we have the answers! Follow the library twitter feed to keep up to date on what’s happening in this month @RHUL_Library


Explore Your Archive

We’re holding two sessions for you to come up to the 3rd floor of Founder’s to explore the RHUL archives and find out how we look after our historical documents. They will be at 2pm on Tuesday 12th November and 11am on Wednesday 20th November. Follow the links to book now.


If you have any questions or want to find out more email archives@rhul.ac.uk or visit our website.