Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities
1999—2000 Forum on Human Nature
Mass Observation: An Intellectual and Cultural History
The peculiar British organization “Mass-Observation,” founded in 1937, recruited hundreds of amateur eavesdroppers to help the group analyze the ordinary. Volunteers were asked to observe and report on their neighbors patterns of political opinion and personal practices of such behavior as smoking, cursing, drinking, sex, and so forth. What political ideas motivated M-O’s founders, what did they hope to find, and how did they explain and present their findings? And, what does the group’s activities reveal about broader fabric of British intellectual and political history. As an exceptionally gifted scholar in Modern European and British history noted for his lively style, Dr. Semmel will introduce students in his course, “’Human Nature’ in Utopian Thought,” to common assumptions modern Western utopian thinkers have made about human nature, and how utopianism has interacted with other aspects of Western political, social, cultural, scientific, and religious thought.