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.
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.
We are pleased to announce the appointment of two new cataloguers, Alison Somerset-Ward and Catherine Bannister, who will work with Julia Bishop and Steve Roud to catalogue and index the first part of the collection, comprising the children’s responses to the Opie’s oral lore of schoolchildren surveys of the 1950s and 1960s. Their work will result in a freely available website, enabling public access to the digitised materials.
Catherine and Alison looking at the Opie Collection
It will also allow the thousands of individual items contributed, such as a game or rhyme, to be searched according to associated features, such as place and date played, type of game, setting in which played, and first line of text, facilitating historical research into play for all.
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.