Buckingham Palace with crowds on the Mall

Paul Edwards reports from the Archive of Market and Social Research virtual event to thank donors, friends and supporters and to mark five years of building the archive.

A quick synopsis for those who don’t know the AMSR (or may have forgotten!).  The AMSR is building a collection of materials that cover the broad world of market and social research in the post-second world war years.  It is a charity that relies on donations of papers, time and money and is free for anyone to use.  It is available online and already has 130,000 pages of material with more being constantly added.  As Denise Lievesley (AMSR President) described, it is a collection of data and contextual information on markets and culture.

As well as being of interest to market researchers and research academics it is proving increasingly valuable to modern historians.  Professor Claire Langhamer of Sussex University provided a range of examples of how the archive has relevant papers on the subjects of research for her and her postgraduate and undergraduate students.  She has used the archive to discover how people lived their lives, what they said about their lives and how they felt about their lives in her areas of interest around the home, leisure, happiness and love.  She summed up the archive rather well: “loads of really useful stuff about the past.”  I particularly like the idea of the continental quilt coming into the UK and drastically reducing the time spent making beds.  It became known as a duvet, but perhaps we should go back to ‘continental quilt’ post Brexit?

And this is what keeps the archive dynamic and relevant – modern historians will look back on the data we are archiving now to help them understand Brexit, Covid, DI&E in the lives and words of our research respondents.

Sue Robson introduced AMSR’s new e-book ‘Post War Developments in Market Research’. This will be available free from the AMSR website on 17 March to coincide with the MRS’ 75th anniversary.

Ben Page of Ipsos/MORI provided a lively cameo reminding us of Mark Twain’s maxim that ‘history may not repeat itself but it rhymes’.  He laid out a clear warning for commentators who think that two data points make a trend with some highly relevant examples:

‘During Covid women’s anxiety levels have been higher than men’s’ – women’s anxiety levels have been historically higher.

‘Look at the current trend for nostalgia’ – that tracks back to the 1990s.

‘Look how trust in politicians has collapsed’ – lack of trust goes back at least to the 1980s (in fact in the USA you have to go right back to the time of President Eisenhower to see high levels of trust).

‘The election polls always get it wrong’ – long term error on political polling has been ±2% since the 1940s.

So be warned!  Ben’s message was if you want to interpret the present you have to understand the past.  And the AMSR is, of course, the ideal resource for the past.

Professor Patrick Barwise (AMSR Chairman) summed up the trajectory of the Archive by reminding us that we began by trying to stop the destruction of historic material and we are now maximising the value of the collection by demonstrating its usefulness.  If you are interested in the commercial and cultural trends in post war Britain, then the AMSR is the first place to look.

Contributed by Paul Edwards
Date posted: 22nd March 2021


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