Playing the Archive: Content Creation and Consumption in the Digital Economy is an ambitious programme of research and cultural production, exploring the nature of play by bringing together archives, spaces and technologies of play, along with people who play, both old and young. It runs from September 2017 to August 2019.
Funded by the EPSRC through the Content Creation and Consumption in the Digital Economy call, the project will digitise and catalogue substantial sections of the Opie manuscript archive at the Bodleian Libraries, creating a new catalogue designed and hosted by the Digital Humanities Institute at the University of Sheffield; design a virtual reality play environment based on the archive and install it at the V&A Museum of Childhood, London, and the Weston Park Museum, Sheffield; and build experimental ‘smart’ playgrounds in London and Sheffield.
Connected to the digitalisation of the Opie Papers, the project will create a virtual, immersive world enabling users both old and young to playfully engage with the archive, experiencing 1950-60s play as Virtual Reality, freely available to visitors at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London, and the Weston Park Museum in Sheffield.
This 3D, Virtual Reality experience will also include games played by today’s children, such as handclapping games with songs based on popular music and film. This work will be a collaboration between archivists and cataloguers at the University of Sheffield, and specialists in VR and advanced visualisation at the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London. They will co-design these new tools with children and with older citizens who contributed to the original Opie surveys, now in their seventies.
Using the ideas created in the other parts of the project, the project will tackle one of the challenges of play in today’s society by building two experimental playgrounds in regeneration sites in Sheffield and London (the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park). These playgrounds will use innovative approaches to playspace and equipment, but also incorporate ‘smart’ objects linking physical play to the historic objects in the archives of the Bodleian and the V&A Museum of Childhood, both partners in the project who will contribute towards the design of the digital tools and resources. The playgrounds will exemplify ‘mixed reality’ play, combining the physical and the virtual, and linking the play cultures of playgrounds and videogames as they are already linked in children’s imaginations.
The catalogue for the first series of the Opie Archive is now available online. This series of documents includes documentation relating to the Opies’ book The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959), including materials from their teacher-correspondents, as well as a wealth of material relating to children’s games and rhymes. Another set of documents includes entries to the Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competition, showing how children understood the world around them and imagined the future.
Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
Sarah Thiel has written a dedicated blog post on the Bodleian Libraries blog about the newly-catalogued collection.