Playing the Archive 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.

Opies playground

Iona and Peter Opie in the playground.

Funded by the EPSRC through the Content Creation and Consumption in the Digital Economy call, the project addresses the ephemerality of practices and memories encoded in play. The project will digitise and catalogue substantial sections of the Opie manuscript archive at the Bodleian Libraries, creating a new catalogue to be designed and hosted by the Digital Humanities Institute at the University of Sheffield; design a virtual reality play environment based on the archive to be installed at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London and the Site Gallery in Sheffield; and build experimental ‘smart’ playgrounds in London and Sheffield. In doing so, Playing the Archive will promote empathy across generations by allowing children to play games that their forebears described to the Opies in the 1950s and 60s, while simultaneously allowing members of that generation to play today’s games, in an intergenerational exchange of cultural memory and play. By digitising a major part of the Opie Collection, creating detailed metadata about its content, and making it publicly accessible online, the project will make the archive accessible both to researchers and to those individuals, now in their seventies, who contributed to it. And through the building of playgrounds that respond to the cultural needs of children in inner-city, multi-ethnic communities, the project will enable play to unite groups across language communities. and social divides.