Category Archives: About

Playing the Archive team present their work

On October 26 at the British Academy, the Playing the Archive team held its first interim conference, with a number of members of the Advisory Board in attendance.

Courtesy of @dylanyamadarice

After an introductory presentation by Andrew Burn, who talked about the project’s emerging themes of memory, nostalgia, continuity and change, and the structures of time and space, Julia Bishop and Cath Bannister offered an introduction to Iona and Peter Opie’s historical archive. Their presentation focused in particular on the Opies’ surveys as a means of better understanding their research methods. Afterwards, Cath and Alison Somerset-Ward offered an inventive account of the archive as an interactive ‘box of delights’, whose many-faceted exploration of the archive fascinated our attendees. Steve Roud then rounded off the morning session with a discussion of the challenges of creating a classification scheme for the Opie archive.

Box of Delights. Photo courtesy of @shelleuk

In the afternoon Jackie Marsh looked at the palimpsests of play across two projects conducted at a nine-year interval, drawing on social anthropology and new materialism to illustrate the mutually reinforcing relationship between children and their playground environments. This was followed by a fascinating presentation by John Potter and Kate Cowan, who looked at how children remediate popular culture (in particular YouTube), and how the use of GoPro cameras, 360 degree video and iPads offer a variety of perspectives for researchers of children’s play. John introduced us to the ways that the VAR technology showcased during the 2018 World Cup has made its way into playground games of football, and how ‘Neymar’ has now become a synonym for unconvincing play acting.

The team from CASA, Duncan Hay, Valerio Signorelli and Andy Hudson-Smith then presented their experiments in re-purposing old or obsolete technology as a means of engaging the public with the Opies’ work, and asked how these evocative, sensorially-rich technologies might constitute an ‘interface’ to memory. Finally, Helen Woolley drew on the Opies’ The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959) to look at the calendar of play, and the distinct temporalities of time (daily, weekly, seasonal) that they revealed. In a tasty conclusion to the event, she offered the attendees a home-baked ‘soul cake’, a small cake made to remember the dead on All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. It provided a tasty conclusion to a wonderful day of discussion. Thank you to the Advisory Board for all their useful and far-reaching comments!

Mathias Poulsen, an advisory board member, has written a blog post with his comments, which you can read here.

Cataloguing by the Book

The Sheffield cataloguing team are currently constructing the Place Name Authority in their catalogue of the Iona and Peter Opie Archive. The authority establishes a consistent way for these places to be referenced in the archive. Once created, it will allow end users of the digital archive to search for information by place and enable the mapping of items of children’s folklore. Those familiar with the Opies’ books will recall the engaging maps they contain charting the distribution of such specifics as ‘spitting death’ and truce terms.

Cover of Bartholomew’s Gazetteer of the British Isles

In order to include the locations of the schools from which the Opies drew much of their data, we have needed to hit the books this week, to ensure that future users will be able to search for games and rhymes in places whose locations have altered – on paper at least – since the Opies first began collecting.  Legislative changes to county boundaries since the Opies began their survey will impact on users of the digital archive searching for the childlore of a perhaps now obsolete area, or alternatively searching in a county incorporating places which were historically ‘elsewhere’. To address this, the digital archive will contain details of a place’s current county, and its county around the time data was collected.

The weighty volume pictured is Bartholomew’s Gazetteer of the British Isles, a topographical dictionary first published in the 1800s and regularly updated, and which features condensed but detailed information on the cities, towns and villages of Britain and Ireland. The edition currently proving its worth to the cataloguing team is a 1966 reprint of the 1943 edition, including additional amendments and entries from the year of its publication. While it’s second nature to turn to web for information these days, this compendium, contemporaneous with the period when the Opies were collecting, is helping us to identify the relevant counties. It’s the kind of reference book that we’re sure would also have been on the Opies’ bookshelf!

We are turning to the web to include longitude and latitude for each of the cities, towns and villages represented in the archive. These will amplify access to the rich and varied data gathered by the Opies and their ‘army’ of correspondents and collaborators.

A further task currently underway is the establishing of controlled vocabularies for defining attributes of the documents and the children’s folklore items contained within them.  Joining the team last week in Sheffield was project consultant Steve Roud, a respected folklorist, writer and creator of the Roud Folk Song Index and author of The Lore of the Playground (2010). Drawing on his knowledge and expertise, he is creating a thesaurus by which we will index the items in the archive.

Playing the Archive Visits the Bodleian Library

The newly-appointed cataloguers joining the Sheffield team, Alison Somerset-Ward and Cath Bannister, accompanied by Helen Woolley, Julia Bishop and Steve Roud, recently got a taste of the task ahead during a visit to the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library to view documents from the Opie archive.

Helen Woolley with Sarah Thiel from the Bodleian Library

The team members were warmly welcomed by Bodleian project archivists Svenja Kunze and Sarah Thiel, creators of the Opie archive finding aid funded by the Wellcome Trust. Svenja and Sarah shared their own experiences of cataloguing the material and their growing sense of familiarity with Iona and Peter Opie’s distinct characters as their work progressed.

The Sheffield team were delighted to be able to view the original materials, which included some of the children’s papers, teacher correspondence, and the Opies’ working files on an array of subjects – from ‘pavement lore’ and the consequences of treading on cracks, to rhymes romantic and otherwise for Valentines’ cards, including light-hearted instructions to the postman. Of particular interest were the Opies’ questionnaire templates which were a key means of data collection.

The visit helped make the team more aware of the human stories behind the Opies’ remarkable collection, their contributions, all in different handwriting, bringing alive the variety of people who were involved.

Banner image: Archive of Iona and Peter Opie, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Opie 90.

New Augmented Reality prototypes in development

Over at CASA, Valerio Signorelli has been developing prototypes for Augmented Reality play. Playing the Archive will bring to life the play experiences of children in the 1950s and 1960s captured in the Opie archive and make it available to visitors at the V&A Museum of Childhood and the Weston Park Museum in Sheffield. AR technologies will also inform the development of experimental play spaces in Sheffield and London.

In this video, Valerio showcases an early prototype of ‘sonic hopscotch’, which uses documents and audio recordings from the Opie Archive as well as a video recording taken as part of the Children’s Playground Games and Songs in the New Media Age project. (Note that as this is a prototype, the recordings and the game don’t yet tie together: the audio and video are for a clapping game, while the document describes a game played using cigarette cards.)

 

Work with schools begins

Kate, John and Valerio joined a staff meeting at our London project primary school. John introduced the work of the Opies, showed the teachers the Playtimes site from the previous project and gave a broad overview of the project. Kate talked about how the researchers would work with the children discussed the various play spaces in and around the school. Valerio gave a great presentation about his work, explained the difference between AR (Augmented Reality), VR (Virtual Reality) and MR (Mixed Reality), and gave the teachers a range of equipment to play with and explore. There was great enthusiasm at the school for the project and we are all looking forward to getting started!

Teacher Tom tries out a VR headset while a Times Education journalist takes pictures

Playing the Archive

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.