Playing the Archive: memory, community and mixed reality play

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Culture, Communication and Media

Abstract

Play is a universal human activity in all communities, cultures and periods of history. In play, cultural memories are given shape and passed down from generation to generation. However, we face many challenges in supporting play in today's society. Playing the Archive addresses three of these problems.
Firstly, play cultures can be fragile and ephemeral, easily lost over time and forgotten by successive generations. Conversely, older generations may be anxious and fearful about the play of today's children, especially in the digital realm. Secondly, the way play is managed in planning and education can have the effect of fragmenting children's playworlds, separating out their digital play from their physical play, although these worlds remain connected in children's imagination and practice. Thirdly, play is increasingly constrained in urban environments, through loss of street play, reductions in social provision, and tight adult surveillance in response to fears about child safety.

'Playing the Archive' offers three approaches to these problems, each focusing on one of them.

The first is to digitise and transform an important resource of cultural memory at the Bodleian Libraries: a collection of accounts of play from 20,000 UK children in the 1950s and 60's by folklorists Iona and Peter Opie. 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 70's.

The second approach is to study memories and practices of play, by interviewing and observing the original Opie contributors and children at primary schools which contributed to the original studies. The children will contribute to the research, interviewing each other and the older participants, and filming their own play. This work will help us understand what play is, why some games survive and others are lost, how physical games, rituals, songs, chants are passed on from one generation to the next, especially from the 1950's to the present day, and how digital play such as videogames has added to the play repertories of today's children. We will also explore what kinds of play exist in different languages and cultures, such as Bengali, Mandarin, Somali, Punjabi and Polish, and how children use play to negotiate membership of communities and a place within them.

The third approach, using the ideas created in the other parts of the project, is to build two experimental playgrounds in regeneration sites in Sheffield (the Park Hill estate) 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.

Finally, the project will hold a Festival of Play at the V&A Museum of Childhood, a free public event, to launch the virtual playworld.

Planned Impact

The immediate communities involved will benefit - surviving contributors to the Opie collection from the 1950s, now in
their 70s; and present-day children from primary schools which contributed to the collection. They will benefit through the
immersive experience of intergenerational play.
2. Communities in the regeneration zones in Sheffield (Hyde Park flats) and London (QE II Olympic Park) will benefit from
access to intelligent digital tools to imagine and prototype playspaces, and to co-design physical experimental playgrounds
in their neighbourhood.
3. Planners, playworkers and educators involved in the project will benefit from use of the 3D play mapping tool in London
and Sheffield. These groups in any city will benefit in the future.
4. Children and communities in Sydney and Cape Town will benefit from extended use of the digital tools, in the same way
that the Sheffield and London communities will benefit.
5. Researchers and practitioners in the field of play internationally will benefit from the preservation of the Opie collection
and online access to it, to its catalogue, and to the virtual playworld.
6. The Bodleian Libraries and V&A Museum of Childhood will benefit through immersive, playful public engagement with
their collections.
7. Research, policy and practitioner sectors will benefit from improved understanding from the research of how play
archives can connect with ordinary lives and play ecologies; of how digital play can foster intergenerational and intercultural
empathy; and of how fractures in play culture between folkloric play, physical play and media-based play can be overcome
through innovative connections between digital and physical environments in the context of smart cities.
8. Interdisciplinary research will benefit: in the contexts of collaboration between the HRI and Faculty of Education at
Sheffield; the collaboration of computer scientists and social scientists at the UCL Knowledge Lab; and the promotion of
play as a site of interdisciplinary collaboration at Culture Lab, UCL East.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The project discovered that an archive of play at the Bodleian Library could be successfully mediated for contemporary audiences (both adult and child) by three means: an innovative cataloguing system at the Sheffield Digital Humanities Institute; a portal to recordings of spoken performances from the archive in the form of a red telephone box at the V&A Museum of Childhood; and a variety of interactive games trialled at the Museum of Childhood and the Site Gallery, Sheffield.
The project has also contributed to a larger effort to make accessible the archives of Iona and Peter Opie, which document children's play between the 1950s and 1980s. The archive digitised during this project, at the Bodelian Libraries, along with the sound archive at the British Library, digitised during a previous project by the same team, along wirth other resources, are made available in a portal hosted by the British Academy. This portal (beta version) is at:
https://www.opiearchive.org/
Exploitation Route The archive of the Opies' manuscripts digitised and catalogued by the project, which includes records of play by an estimated 10,00 children, represents a preservation of heritage of national and international importance, and as such a resource for scholars and the general public for the future.
The "Time Telephone", an interactive device in the shape of a red telephone box, which was installed at the V&A Museum of Childhood until its closure for refurbishment in late 2019, may serve as a tangible exemplar of ways in which the legacy of play from the past may be made available through playful immersive media, informing museum and gallery design in the first instance.
The outcomes of the academic research, currently in preparation as a book, will make a significant contribution to the study of children's play, and to the understanding of the Opies' work, methodologies and legacy.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://www.playingthearchive.net/
 
Description The findings and outcomes have contributed to the establishment of a portal giving access to the various archives of Iona and Peter Opie: https://www.opiearchive.org/
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Seminar for postdoctoral students at Reggio Emilia Foundation
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Teaching on Digital Literacies, Culture and Education MA (University of Sheffield)
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Teaching on MA Multimodal Communication (UCL IOE)
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Teaching on Primary PGCE (UCL IOE)
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description DigiLitEY Short Term Scientific Mission
Amount € 1,850 (EUR)
Funding ID COST-STSM-ECOST-STSM-IS1410-090317-081617 
Organisation European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 03/2018 
End 03/2018
 
Description UKRI Covid-19 Rapid Response
Amount £252,333 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2020 
End 01/2022
 
Description 'Play in the Pandemic' guest post for the PanMeMic Blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited guest blog post reflecting on children's changing play and communication in the context of covid-19
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://panmemic.hypotheses.org/683
 
Description 'Research for the Real World' UCL IOE Podcast episode - Children as Co-Researchers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited to feature on the UCL IOE podcast, discussing prior research in an accessible and informal format aimed at highlighting findings to a broad audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/news/2020/sep/children-co-researchers-theres-more-play-here-rftrw-s04e05
 
Description 'What is free play and why does it matter?' Guest blog post for 5Rights Digital Futures Commission 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited guest blog post to describe publication 'A Panorama of Play' ahead of the 5Rights Digital Futures Commission online launch
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://digitalfuturescommission.org.uk/blog/what-is-free-play-and-why-does-it-matter/
 
Description 5Rights Foundation - Digital Futures Commission Launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited to be part of an expert panel discussing digital play at the online launch of this commission
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Article in Times Educational Supplement 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Interview by freelance journalist Tom Starkey with members of the team, resulting in TES article describing the innovative VR/AR elements of the project, 19th Jan, 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.tes.com/news/journey-ed-tech-future
 
Description BBC R4 documentary on clapping games 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Various members of the Playing the Archive project team were interviewed in relation to the history and recent research into clapping games. We were also used as consultants when the programme was under preparation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00017sj
 
Description BBC Radio 4 Documentary ('The Green Lady in the Toilets') 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Radio broadcast coordinated by producer Claire Crofton for the BBC, involving interviews about Playing the Archive project findings and insights into children's play and peer cultures.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000mj1m
 
Description BBC Sound recording event for documentary 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Myself, Prof Andrew Burn, Dr Kate Cowan and Dr Julia Bishop were interviewed for a BBC documentary about playground games. We also facilitated recordings at the first research school.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00017sj
 
Description Bremen-Groningen Multimodality Workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited presentation to this online workshop series, as part of a panel on children and literature. Papers followed by questions and discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description British Academy conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Contribution to an interim conference for the projectc, engaging the Advisory Board members with research progress to date and the themes emerging form the different strands of the project. Our paper generated significant discussion around the Opie archive, their methods and approach to childhood research at the time, and the way it is viewed by adults and children now. Our abstract was as follows:

Despite public and scholarly acclaim for the Opies' joint publications on the folklore of children (1959, 1969, 1985, 1997), some reviewers are critical of their approach or uncertain how to interpret their findings (e.g. Bernstein 1960, Messinger 1964, Grugeon 1988, Hardman 2001). The Opies have also been criticised for not writing in greater detail about the methodology which underpinned their publications and for not publishing their questionnaires (Legman 1979, Hobbs and Cornwell 1991).
As part of the Playing the Archive project, the first 31,000 pages of the Archive of Iona and Peter Opie have been digitised by the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. These enable close-up scrutiny and a more thorough appreciation of the Opies' working methods than has hitherto been possible.

In this paper, we will examine the Opies' survey work, which forms the bedrock of their research into children's play and folklore, focusing on the questionnaires and a selection of the Opies' correspondence with the teachers involved. We describe emerging findings and raise questions about the extent to which their status as 'researchers beyond the university walls' (Finnegan 2005), and the collaborative ethos they adopted, impacted on their work. These will be discussed in relation to the Opies' own writings about their aims, approach and methods. We aim to round out the account of the Opies' research and enable a more informed evaluation of it, as well as refining understandings as to the nature of their data and its potential for interpretation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Digitising Social Practices Conference, Odense 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation as part of a panel on the topic of 'Visualising the Virus', generating insights into visual research methods during covid-19.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Ethical Research with Archival Data In the Age of GDPR Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Playing the Archive researchers Cath Bannister and Julia Bishop developed a funding bid for this event out of their experiences cataloguing and researching around the Opie Archive in Playing the Archive. It was funded by the University Research Ethics Committee (UREC). Cath Bannister and Julia Bishop also presented their work on the Opie materials as part of the day in a presentation entitled "Naming names: Challenges in presenting the Iona and Peter Opie Archive online and tracing original contributors".

The workshop was looking at issues around what should be displayed and what should be redacted when it comes to archival data (for example, when contributors are still living or when they mention other people such as names of friends and family). As a result of this the National Archives are planning to run a national event and have asked the Playing the Archive team members to collaborate on this.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/landscape/events/ethical-research-with-archival-data-gdpr-urec
 
Description Literacy and Contemporary Society Conference, Cyprus 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation at this international literacy conference, sharing main project findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description NCRM Summer School, Southampton 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited presentation at the annual NCRM (National Centre for Research Methods) Summer School, focusing on the theme of participatory research methods. Attended mainly by by doctoral students and early career researchers, involving discussion about how to adopt such methodologies in their own work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description National Literacy Trust Conference - Panel on play and literacy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Invitation to speak on a panel at the National Literacy Trust online conference, aimed at supporting teachers returning to school after the covid-19 lockdowns.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Parent Workshop and Information session 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact We took part in an information giving session for parents of children in the first school in the study in January 2018. There were many interesting and interested questions and participation levels were good afterwards. This was done by myself and Dr Kate Cowan and facilitated by the head teacher at the school.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Playing the Archive co-creation workshop at Victoria & Albert museum of childhood 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact half-day Playing the Archive co-creation workshop, to be held at the Museum of Childhood in London. In the co-creation workshop, you had the opportunity to: Play with and offer feedback on the prototype AR, VR, and Mixed Reality prototypes developed by the research group; discuss how these prototypes might interact with or add value to the Museum collection and the materials from the Opie archive; explore the practicalities of what can be delivered and managed by the Museum, and how we can incorporate these considerations into the research and prototyping process.
The workshop was an unique occasion that helped us to shape further development of the media prototypes (e.g. usability of VR technologies in the museum; engagement with visitors) and to strengthen collaboration with the museum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation at 9ICOM, Denmark 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A presentation entitled 'Playing the Archive: Multimodal Perspectives on Children's Play' was given by Kate Cowan and John Potter at the 9th International Conference on Multimodality (9ICOM) held in Odense, Denmark (August 2018).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation at PlayTrack Bootcamp, Denmark 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited presentation at PlayTrack Bootcamp focusing on researching play, organised by the Interacting Minds Centre at Aarhus University, Denmark. A video recording of the presentation has been produced to create a project resource.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://interactingminds.au.dk/videos/
 
Description Presentation to Digital Literacies in the Early Years (DigiLitEY) Manchester 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Approximately 45 people attended a paper presentation given by myself and Dr Kate Cowan (another team member) informing people about the project, its methods and initial findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://digilitey.eu/events-activities/conferences-and-events/reconceptualising-early-childhood-liter...
 
Description Presentation to LEGO Group, Denmark 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A presentation to the LEGO Group in Billund, Denmark on the topic of play, attended by toy designers and members of LEGO Education LEGO Foundation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Project Poster at British Academy event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The project produced a poster representation of its work to add to a poster exhibition related to research projects on the life of Iona Opie, hosted by the British Academy on 29th November 2018, and organised by the British Academy-funded Childhoods and Play project. The event included presentations by members of the Playing the Archive team, and by two of Iona Opie's children.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Project blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The blog presents activities from the project, and ongoing research. These include workshops with children on play cultures, excerpts from the Opie manuscript archive at the Bodleian and the work the project is undertaking with them, and examples of VR and AR prototypes developed to represent play in museum contexts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
URL https://playingthearchive.net/
 
Description RGS-IBG AC2018 - Interface Geographies 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation of the research project and of the TimeTelephone device in developing within the project. The presentation, entitled "Interface Memories" and presented by Duncan Hay (University College London, UK), Valerio Signorelli (University College London, UK) and Andrew Hudson-Smith (University College London, UK), has been part of the session "Interface Geographies", organised and chaired by by James Ash (Newcastle University, UK). At the session took part: Interface Geographies, James Ash (Newcastle University, UK) (presenter); Scrolling and panning: Haptic encounters in Google Street View, Cheryl Gilge (University of Washington, USA) (presenter); Interfaces as experiential membranes, Alex Gekker (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands) (presenter); At the Interface: work, resistance and technology in the gig-economy, Adam Badger (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK) (presenter).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description UCL Bartlett Review 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Write up of early Playing the Archive Output - leading to a forthcoming Telegraph Article.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/about-us/bartlett-review/bartlett-review-2018/short-stories/state-pla...
 
Description UKLA Annual Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Symposium to conference attendee summarising key project findings including innovative methods and insights into contemporary play practices. Attended by teachers and school leaders in addition to academics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description V&A Future Museum Conference: Play and Design 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Invited workshop delivered as part of this one-day conference aimed at a wide audience of museum professionals, educators and the general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Visit by children in the project to the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact This was a visit on 1st Feb to the UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis by some child co-researchers and participants in the project. The purpose was a workshop and prototype testing for exhibits in the project and a discussion of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Workshop delivered at University of Southern Denmark 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact An invited workshop on multimodal research delivered to staff and postgraduate students at the Centre for Multimodal Research, University of Southern Denmark.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Workshop with primary school, Aberdeen 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact This was a 3-day workshop with 5 Year 8 secondary school pupils at St Machar Academy in Aberdeen. The aim was to encourage them to explore their play cultures, inspired by documents from the Opie archive at the centre of this project. The school reported real interest on the part of the pupils in the past history of play, and the recordings of the event demonstrated new levels of explicit awareness of processes of cultural transmission. It should be noted that the workshop also recorded the children's re-voicing of documents from the archive, which will feed into later outputs of the project, to be reported at a later stage.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Workshop with primary school, Cardiff 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact This was a 2-day workshop with 12 Year 6 primary school pupils in Cardiff. The aim was to encourage them to explore their play cultures, inspired by documents from the Opie archive at the centre of this project. The school reported real interest on the part of the pupils in the past history of play, and the recordings of the event demonstrated new levels of explicit awareness of processes of cultural transmission. It should be noted that the workshop also recorded the children's re-voicing of documents from the archive, which will feed into later outputs of the project, to be reported at a later stage.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018