The Oronto Douglas Collection

We are pleased to announce an exciting new collection – papers of Oronto Douglas, Nigerian environmental rights lawyer and alumni of DMU!

Oronto Douglas was born in Okoroba, Nigeria. He attended the University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where he studied law. A speaker of Ijaw, Igbo and Yoruba, Douglas began to work as an environmental rights activist and was instrumental in the creation of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria. In 1994 he was introduced to environmental scientist Nick Ashton-Jones and assisted him on a baseline ecological survey of the Niger Delta. The trip resulted in the publication The Environmental Rights Action Handbook to the Niger Delta (published 1998, available here).

Detail of one of the field notebooks

Douglas was a friend of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and was involved with the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), which aimed to protect the Ogoni people from environmental destruction caused by oil companies, in particular Shell.

Publications by Ken Saro-Wiwa

Douglas was a member of the legal team that represented Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists at their trial under General Sani Abacha’s government in 1994-95. Saro-Wiwa was executed in November 1995 in what was described as “judicial murder” and caused international outcry.

Protest flyer by Oronto Douglas

In 1995 to 1997 Douglas attended De Montfort University, graduating with a Masters in Environmental Law. During his time in Leicester he remained an active campaigner against the oil industry, organising protests at Shell petrol stations.

Douglas later became a special adviser to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on research, documentation and strategy. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 and died in April 2015.

The papers comprise twelve field notebooks from the survey of the Niger Delta conducted by Oronto Douglas and Nick Ashton-Jones in 1994. The notes record conversations with villagers detailing their lives and circumstances. Also three folders of notes, research, press cuttings and essays dating from Douglas’ studies on the MA in Environmental Law at De Montfort University, including activism around the trial of Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Please contact us on if you would like to know more.


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New website for Special Collections catalogues

Special Collections is delighted to announce that we have moved to a new cataloguing system with a dedicated new website! The system, Epexio by Metadatis, will give us more behind-the-scenes functionality that will enable us to improve the catalogues we present to you, the researcher.

We’re still tidying up some of the data so you might notice the odd broken link but we’ll have it straightened up in no time.

You may notice that some entries are very brief and described as ‘stubs’. Like many archives we are behind with our cataloguing – it’s a meticulous process that takes more time than we have! However, we decided to go ahead and make very brief entries for ALL of our holdings. That way researchers can identify material of interest even if we haven’t yet catalogued it.

Go to and give the catalogues a browse!


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Explore Your Archive day 9 – #InternationalArchives

DMU is rightly proud of its #DMUGlobal scheme, an international experience programme for our students, which aims to enrich studies, broaden cultural horizons and to develop key skills valued by employers. For today’s #InternationalArchives theme I chose a couple of years from the 1980s at random and looked through our press cuttings collections to explore the international activities of DMU’s predecessor Leicester Polytechnic. The cuttings fell into four broad themes: visits and trips; celebrating the contributions of international students and academics; explorations of multiculturalism and diversity; and charitable fundraising. Click on any of the images below to explore them in more detail.


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Explore Your Archives day 8: #SportingArchives

Today’s theme is #SportingArchives and for this theme I have gathered together images of various sports and athletes from all over the world from various collections within our archive. Trying to get as wide a variety as possible I have collected these images to show just how varied sport is and just how many nations are involved with the global phenomenon that is sport.

A game of Baseball in 1964 America

Children playing cricket on the streets of India

Chinese synchronised diving team at the 2000 Olympics

The start of the 1965 Indianapolis 500

Gymnast Svetlana Khorkina at the 2000 Olympics

Tan Yee Khan Malaysian badminton player

Austrian Skier Karl Schranz 1964

And finally Here’s some sport from Leicester to bring it back home:

An article on a women’s 100 yard race from 1935

The Leicester Polytechnic Sailing Club on Rutland Water

Special Collections has a growing number of collections relating to sport, including skiing, boxing and the Special Olympics!




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Explore Your Archive Day 7 #ArchiveAnimals

The theme of animals is particularly significant to the symbolism of both Leicester and De Montfort University as the DMU lion featured in the university’s logo has a long history that is connected with the city’s heraldry. Taken from a previous post exploring the DMU logo and Leicester Coat of Arms the following features the animal-related  highlights:

Pictured below, Leicester’s city arms have two lions holding up a shield which is decorated with a cinquefoil (a French word meaning ‘5 leaves’). A helmet with decorative mantling sits on top of the shield, crested by a wyvern. Often mistaken for a dragon, the wyvern is similar but only has two legs. The motto ‘semper eadem’ means ‘always the same’.

When the school transitioned into a Polytechnic, it was given its own coat of arms, which incorporated elements from the old coat of arms including the lion and the cinquefoil. A kestrel was added and the motto changed to ‘excellentia et studium’, meaning ‘excellence and zeal’.

At the creation of DMU in 1992, a new logo was designed but still maintained continuity with the old coat of arms. Therefore a lion was chosen, with the cinquefoil embedded in his mane, echoing the previous logo and the Leicester coat of arms.

Such a fascinating story and one that has developed over the years to include animal descendants one of which is our very own Kimberlion – the lion mascot for the Kimberlin Library.


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Explore Your Archive day 6 #DiversityArchives

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:












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:

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.


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Explore Your Archive day 5 #Maritime

A #MaritimeArchives theme may seem like a particularly tricky #exploreyourarchives topic for an archive located in the Midlands but you will be surprised!

DMU Maritime Links

To mark the WWI centenary year our travelling exhibition highlights the impact of the Great War on College staff and students. As a part of the research for this and our online exhibition one of those stories includes the work of Engineering Master, Ernest Edward Brooks. An expert on magnetism and electricity, Brooks taught at the Technical School from 1884 to 1936.

Inspired to join the war effort after the sinking of the Lusitania on the 7th of May 1915, Brooks developed anti-submarine technology which the Admiralty said had been ‘of the greatest assistance’ in the war effort. Submarines were considered the greatest threat during the First World War as British ships had no way of knowing where they were.

Maritime Poetry

Also in the collections here at DMU, and potentially bought for its beautiful illustrations and used as an art resource is an edition of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s longest major poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, illustrated by Hungarian artist Willy Pogany. The poem tells the story of a mariner recounting the tale of a long voyage to a man on the way to a wedding ceremony, what the sailor saw and how the journey changed him.



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Explore Your Archive day 4 #HairyArchives

For today’s #exploreyourarchives theme it’s the all time winner – #HairyArchives and I’ve found some wonderful images featuring my favourite hairy companions, dogs!

This year we thought we would mix it up with images of more than just hairy humans but hairy canines as well! Here we have a hunter with his catch and his loyal hairy companion beside him.


Our second dog photo is much more photogenic as it poses with its owner for the perfect shot in a photo studio, with a very believable country background.

And lastly we have a lovely image of two children and their dogs having their photo taken from 1910! As the best (in my opinion) hairy animal out there we hope you enjoy these old pictures of dogs and their humans as much as we do! However, if you are wanting something a little more people-based and Movember-themed then you can check out our post from last year in which we look at facial hair and hairstyles throughout the decades.



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Explore Your Archive day 3 – #ArchiveAnniversaries

There have been many significant anniversaries during 2018, not least the 100 year anniversaries of the end of the First World War and of the passing of Representation of the People Act allowing (some) women to vote. It has also been 50 years since the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F Kennedy.

For this post I wanted to focus on a different but no less significant milestone: the 1918 Education Act. Known as the Fisher Act, this raised the school leaving age from 12 to 14, abolished fees in state elementary schools, and introduced more special needs education. Most significantly for the history of DMU, it promoted a system of part-time continuation day classes for those aged 14 to 18. This was an early form of  secondary technical education, aimed at allowing teenagers who had to enter the workforce to continue with some education, usually relevant to their trade.

At this date, the Leicester Municipal Technical and Art School provided a mixture of day time and evening classes, with the majority of students attending part time. Classes were aimed at all levels and fell into what we would consider a broad range of secondary, further, higher and adult education. LMTAS was exactly the kind of institution which was geared towards the provision of continuation day classes, and in response to the Act the Junior Day Craft Classes and the Junior Technical School were established. The prospectuses provide more detail about the work of the schools:

The 1918 Education Act recognised that young people entering the workforce needed to have the opportunity to learn and improve their skills as much as those fortunate enough to go to a grammar school and undertake a classical education. DMU’s predecessors were focused on providing vocational courses that would benefit the industry of the town, and their junior classes proved to be very successful.


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Explore Your Archive day 2: #Religious Archives

Today’s Explore Your Archive hashtag relates to #ReligiousArchives. For this theme I have selected some work by our architectural students of the 1930s, who were required to produce ‘measured drawings’ of local Leicester and Leicestershire buildings. Special Collections holds a set of images taken of student work, which includes a number of churches. You can find out more about this collection here:

Drawing of the West and North elevations of St Peter’s, Langton, by Howard Hickman.

Plan of St Peter’s, Langton, by Howard Hickman.

Drawing of the tower and west elevation of Ashby Folville church by WH Prince, Feb 1932

Details of the stonework in Holy Trinity, Normanton-le-Heath

The south aisle of St Margaret’s, Stoke Golding, by G Christie


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