Photograph © Raymond Townsend
Childhoods and Play

Playing the Archive

The Opie Archive

Changing Play

Children's Playground Games and Songs in the New Media Age

Childhoods and Play

The Iona and Peter Opie Archive

Childhoods and Play is a long-term project which exists to surface the Iona and Peter Opie archival collection and make the research materials contained in it freely accessible for research and public engagement. Established in 2012, the project is a collaboration between the University of Sheffield, University College London, the Bodleian Libraries, the Folklore Society and the British Library. It has the status of a British Academy Research Project, a kitemark of academic excellence for major infrastructural projects and research facilities.

The Childhoods and Play project undertakes research into the Opies and the collection and supports projects which involve the Opie materials. It will result in a digital resource which brings the distributed elements of the Opie Archive together via a common search interface and allows them to be browsed and searched to item level, such as an individual rhyme, song, game, belief, custom or saying. The resource will serve a diverse audience, including academics across a range of disciplines, schools, community groups, reminiscence groups and the general public. It will include search and browse facilities, user guides, bibliography, information on the historical context of the collections, a crowdsourcing interface for transcription.

Professor Jackie Marsh at the University of Sheffield and Professor Andrew Burn of the Institute of Education, University College London, have now retired from the project and we would like to pay tribute to them for their vision and work in establishing the project in their roles as Project Director and joint Co-Director respectively. We are delighted to announce that Dr Yinka Olusoga at the University of Sheffield and Professor John Potter have stepped into their shoes to take the project forward, joining Dr Julia Bishop who continues in her role as joint Co-Director. We are also pleased to welcome several new members to the Advisory Board and also extend our thanks to those who have now retired from it.

Project Director Yinka Olusoga (University of Sheffield)

Project Co-Directors Julia Bishop (University of Sheffield) and John Potter (University College London)

Steering Group Project Director and Co-Directors, Michael Heaney and Steve Roud (Independent Advisors), Caroline Oates (Folklore Society) and Susan Thomas (Bodleian Libraries)

Advisory Board Steering group members as above, plus Catherine Bannister (University of Sheffield), Christina de Bellaigue (University of Oxford), Liz Chesworth (University of Sheffield), Karen Daniels (Sheffield Hallam University), Michael Eades (Goldsmiths, University of London), Ken Emond (British Academy), Ruth Finnegan (Open University and British Academy), Ross MacFarlane (Wellcome Library), Heather Montgomery (Open University), Siân Pooley (University of Oxford), Catherine Ritman-Smith (Young V&A), Jonnie Robinson (British Library), Morag Styles (University of Cambridge), and Michael Wragg (Leeds Beckett University).

Childhoods and Play grew out of several earlier projects, Children's Playground Games and Songs in the New Media Age (2009–2011), The Opie Working Papers (2011), and Changing Play: A Study of the Relationship between Media, Commercial Markets and Children's Play in the UK between 1950 and 2011 (2011–2012). The Opie Working Papers was a University of Sheffield knowledge transfer project, funded by the HEFCE Rapid Response Fund (HEIF4). It led to the creation of a preliminary finding aid for the Opie papers at the Bodleian Library, and reported on collection's potential for digitisation and research.

Childhoods and Play has gone on to be associated with a number of further projects involving the collection, especially The Opie Archive: Exploring Play in Britain from the 1950s to the 1980s (2016), Playing the Archive: Community, Memory and Mixed Reality Play (2017–2019), and A National Observatory of Children’s Play Experiences During COVID-19 (2020-2022).


Jackie Marsh. 2013. Research on Childhood and Play: Drawing on the Opie Legacy. British Academy Review 21 (January), 30–33.