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.
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.
Two further catalogues of material from the Opie Archive have been completed and can now be searched online. The series B catalogue comprises a large database of the Opies’ materials that was at the centre of their published output. They include 239 subject files which contain research materials, drafts, notes, press cuttings and other ephemera. The series C catalogue contains manuscripts and proofs, as well as correspondence with publishers and reviews of their work, as well as materials relating to their articles, lectures, exhibitions and broadcasts.
These catalogues are in addition to the catalogue for series A, which went live in September.
Sarah Thiel has written a dedicated blog post on the Bodleian Library archives and manuscripts blog.
It is with considerable sadness that we report the death of Iona Opie (née Archibald) on 23 October 2017, aged 94. Her ground-breaking work on children’s folklore, especially play and games, undertaken together with her husband Peter, has been inspirational to our own research. In particular, the Opies’ archival collection, which Iona donated to the British Library, Bodleian Libraries and Folklore Society Archives, is central to our current project, Playing the Archive, and its predecessor, Children’s Playground Games and Songs in the New Media Age.
We are grateful to have had her support for this work, and glad to have the privilege, like many scholars around the world, to build on her legacy.
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.
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.
One of the central strands of Playing the Archive is to digitalise the Opie Collection and create new ways for users to interact with it. The archive is housed at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford. These two posts from the libraries’ blog discuss the origins of the archive, the challenges of cataloguing its material, and the personal papers of Peter Opie.
(Photo courtesy of Bodleian Library)
Nursery rhymes, childhood folklore, and play: The archive of Iona and Peter Opie
Eton College, a journey to India, and wartime Britain: Personal stories from the Opie Archive