Institute of Education


Project provides members of the public the opportunity to phone the past

25 April 2019

A red telephone box has been installed at the V&A Museum of Childhood which allows users to hear British children’s accounts of their play and games from the 1950s – 1980s, as part of a project created by UCL Institute of Education (IOE).

Woman in red London telephone box

The installation is part of the Playing the Archive project which explores memories and practices of play by bringing together archives, spaces and technologies of play. The archive, held at the Bodleian Libraries, contains accounts of playing by thousands of British children collected by folklorists Iona and Peter Opie.

The Time Telephone installation explores the usage of everyday interfaces and highlights the fragile and ephemeral memories of play. The project expects the installation will trigger contrasting experiences among different generations of visitors. Older generations will find themselves plunged into a common activity of the past, the use of the rotary phone, that will likely trigger childhood memories; younger generations will discover games and rhymes of the past by using an unknown interface, nowadays replaced by smartphones.

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The Time Telephone offers a glimpse into the Opie Archive through an interactive exploration of children’s memories of playing. It uses archival material recorded by the Opies between 1969 and 1983, and a selection of essays re-enacted by primary school children from London, Sheffield, Cardiff and Aberdeen.

IOE professor Andrew Burn said: “The Time Telephone offers access to the games of the past and to forms of cultural memory, and promotes intergenerational dialogue about play. It also builds a bridge between two great institutions, the Bodleian and the Museum of Childhood, bringing the Opie archive to life in the year of the 60th anniversary of their seminal work, based on this archive: The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren.”

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The project is a collaboration between the IOE and CASA (the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis) at the Bartlett Faculty, which devised and constructed the Time Telephone; and with the University of Sheffield, which oversaw the recordings of children in Cardiff, Sheffield and Aberdeen, and the cataloguing of the Bodleian archive, which will be available online for scholars and the general public to view.