University of Sussex
2018-10-11_Baker-Geiringer_Space-Text-Selfhood_accepted-manuscript.pdf (210.73 kB)

Space, text and selfhood: encounters with the personal computer in The Mass Observation project archive, 1991-2004

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-09, 15:28 authored by James Baker, David Geiringer
While the advent of the home computer in 1990s Britain has been well documented by historians of computing and technology, there remains little research on the everyday experience of this phenomenon. In this article, we use material held in The Mass Observation Project (MOP) archive to explore the way men and women in late-modern Britain experienced and understood the changes brought about by home computing. The reflexive and yet private nature of responses held in the MOP archive make it an important window into the cultural and social contexts in which personal computers were encountered. Our research indicates that the advent of the home computer brought about a number of historically-specific changes in the way Mass Observers scribed and composed their written communications. The processes through which people turned ideas into text were irreversibly recalibrated by the possibilities of saving, editing, copy and pasting on screen. As personal computer resources moved from being predominantly accessible at work to being a staple part of the home, the lines between labour and leisure, business and pleasure and the personal and the professional were blurred. Ultimately, evidence from the Mass Observation Archive indicates that the advent of the home computer had a significant effect on the processes through which individuals composed a sense of self on a day-to-day basis. It introduced new tensions, possibilities and anxieties to the act of negotiating a ‘modern’ identity. Building on this insight, our paper makes interventions in two areas: the history of writing and the history of the home. Placed alongside one another, these findings open up suggestive new questions for the heavily contested historiographical trope of the late-modern ‘self’.


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  • Published

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  • Accepted version


Contemporary British History




Taylor & Francis

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  • History Publications

Research groups affiliated with

  • Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research Publications
  • Sussex Humanities Lab Publications

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