There are many ways to think and talk about diversity in the archives and this post will illustrate some of the conversations we regularly have in Special Collections on this topic. Three core concerns that we are asked about or keep returning to include our seemingly eclectic, diverse and disparate holdings, our lack of diversity in terms of records about the student body and the importance of making visible the hidden experiences of minority groups with the aim of representing all members of the DMU and local community.
‘What a diverse collection of stuff!’
Anyone who has spent any time in Special Collections often comments on the diversity of our holdings, their seemingly disparate nature and the variety of formats as we not only acquire and preserve archival documents but we also have rare books, film and audio reels, and a range of artefacts. An example of this range can be seen in the records of the institution itself as well as in material relating to its subject areas.
Paper documents include prospectuses, campus development plans, board minutes, and one of my most favourite items, the first ever student register:
Leicester College of Art Register,
Sample page showing the register entry for alumnus, Ernest Gimson who trained as an architect and furniture designer and would go on to become a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement of the ealry 20th Century.
We also have a selection of photographs of classes for various schools and periods, such as this 1977 business seminar.
Artefacts in our collections are hugely varied and as well as being linked to the development of the university have often been acquired because of their connection to DMU’s subject strengths and research centres, such as photography, sporting history and fashion and textiles as well as the numerous projects undertaken by staff which have then been donated:
Ceremonial stave head for Leicester Polytechnic
The International Centre for Sports History and Culture have been particularly instrumental in acquiring some of our most prestigious collections, including England Boxing from which the following item is taken:
Pill box souvenir from 1908 Olympic Games
Pill box lid
Diascope rockets each containing an image of a cosmonaut from our Russian Space Exploration collection donated by lecturer, Andy Thomas.
Gaps in our holdings: (not) representing the student body
While our mission to preserve the institutional history of DMU and its predecessors has been very successful since Special Collections was officially established in 2013, we are painfully aware that our holdings are decidedly unbalanced in terms of how that story is represented. As seen above, we have many items that depict the development of the organisation but very little that documents staff and student experience – an elitist narrative all too often seen in organisational collections. We are lucky enough, however, to have some material that offers an alternative perspective:
These beautiful scrapbooks from the City of Leicester Teacher Training College which would later merge with Leicester Polytechnic (DMU). 1945-47.
This magnificent cardigan made by a student on the fashion and textiles course, c 1990.
Going forward, this is a situation we are hoping to rectify as we have now officially launched our Archives Appeal in a drive to collect material from previous staff and students or anyone who has documents, photographs or ephemera relating to DMU, the local area and its activities over the years.
Hidden Histories, Representation and the Democratisation Process
Most importantly, celebrating and understanding diversity in the archives is very much a part of other events geared towards raising an awareness about the achievements and struggles that comprise the experience of hidden, obscured or underrepresented people and their stories through campaigns such as Black History Month, and LGBTQI History Month.
The National Archives includes a very useful website explaining why these events are so important, and we regularly use our collections to contribute to them, as seen in a number of our outreach activities, such as conference exhibitions, blog posts for International Women’s Day, and lots of Tweets!
We are also very proud at DMU to have been awarded the first ever University of the Year for Social Inclusion by the Sunday Times Good University Guide.
And last month, as a part of the vigil to launch DMU’s Sustainable Development Goals, our chancellor, Baroness Doreen Lawrence with Archives Manager Katharine Short led a preview of the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre which along with the accompanying archival collection will be open to the public in spring 2019.
While accessing the collection is still a while away you can read more about the Centre’s aims and work in this article from the Black History Month magazine, 2018 featuring an interview with Dr Kenetta Hammond Perry, the Centre’s Director:
The role that archives and archivists can play in challenging elitist frameworks through representation can not be overstated as it is through outreach that dialogues begin, that collections can become more visible, and that catalogues become more inclusive. In this way the creation and preservation of archives ensures events and people are not forgotten, but remembered while asserting that archives are for everyone.