Mass Observation (1937-2017) and Life Writing

Woven Tapestries: Dialogues and Dilemmas in Editing a Diary




diaries, Mass Observation, Naomi Mitchison, World War Two


Naomi Mitchison (1897-1999) was an established novelist and political campaigner throughout her life. During the Second World War, she kept an extensive daily diary from her home on the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland which she sent in instalments to the London offices of the social research organisation, Mass Observation. Until the 1980s, this diary, together with 500 other diaries for the same period, remained largely unread. It was stored as part of the valuable Mass Observation Archive which was deposited at the University of Sussex in 1970. Between 1982 and 1984 it was edited for publication by Dorothy Sheridan, the Mass Observation archivist, in collaboration with Naomi Mitchison herself. It was first published as a book in 1985 by Gollancz as Among you taking notes: the wartime diary of Naomi Mitchison 1939-1945. This article is an account of the collaborative process of editing the original diary for publication and addresses questions of ownership, ethics and methodology raised by the process of editing life documents.

Author Biography

Dorothy Sheridan, Mass Observation Archive, University of Sussex

Dorothy Sheridan began work with the Mass Observation Archive (MOA) at the University of Sussex in 1974, going on to be its archivist and later director, and co-launching a new collecting phase of Mass Observation in 1981. She has written, taught and published in areas related to social history, women’s history, life history and archiving, and was awarded an MBE in 1991 for this work. In 2007, she received an honorary doctorate from the Open University and became an honorary professor at Sussex. She left her post of Head of Special Collections at Sussex in 2010 but remains linked to the MOA and is also an Advisor to the National Life Story Collection at the British Library. Since retiring from paid employment, she has re-directed her life story interests into activist and community work including refugee support and teaching English.





Mass Observation (1937-2017) and Life Writing