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A Year In Teaching With Archives, 2022-23

by Natalie Hayton on 2023-08-21T10:09:19+01:00 | 0 Comments

As well as preserving the history of the university, a core function of DMU Special Collections is to contribute to teaching, learning and research at the university. And we absolutely love welcoming staff and students to Special Collections and sharing our collections. In this blog post, we'll give you a run down of what we have to offer in terms of our teaching and learning services followed by a review of the last academic year.

Above: Undergraduate History students exploring and critiquing the reliability of primary sources.



We offer a variety of options for teaching staff to bring student groups to the archive to explore the collections. The format of these sessions is flexible and is usually tailored according to the specific needs of the class. To get started, we also have an online module that students can work through before their visit. This introduces basic archive concepts and allows students to focus on gaining confidence handling historical items, exploring collections and asking us questions during the session. Link to the module: Below is an image from the module showing the course units on the left.




Our session formats include the following and can be stand alone or combined as needed:

  • Display/handling session: students are given a brief introduction to the archive and collections relevant to their topic. They are then allowed to browse, explore and handle books, documents and artefacts with guidance from Special Collections staff

  • Lecture/discussion seminar: archives staff can speak to students about a variety of archival topics, including a basic introduction to what archives are, where to find them and how to use them, through to an exploration of more complex issues, such as evaluating primary sources, archival power and elitist frameworks and the role of democratisation in diversifying collections 

  • Campus Tour: a of the tour the university campus exploring the history of the local area and the buildings on site, 1353-2023.

  • Exhibition tour: a tour of the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre exhibition with a focus on the significance of the archival collection. 

With all of the above, no matter what subject, it is always useful to include a practical element to the session to encourage real engagement with archival material to explore its significance. For example, asking students to evaluate the reliability of the primary sources or to respond creatively, considering how archival collections can be a source of inspiration.

Above: an image of the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre which features an exhibition with items from the archival collection.


We also encourage staff to consider embedding any archive sessions into their module handbooks: as a specific week's activity and/or in the Resources/Bibliography section. This already takes place for a number of courses. Examples from last year include, sport history Masters students used primary sources to design a web page, and undergraduate theatre studies students selected extracts from plays and used them in a flash performance. In previous years architecture students have used local history collections to research the development of various areas across Leicester, including Jewry Wall and Leicester Market.


If you are interested in booking a teaching session, please contact Katharine Short ( to discuss your needs. We encourage you to book early as our diary fills up quickly! We have also found teaching sessions to be more successful in terms of attendance and engagement if staff accompany their students to Special Collections as a timetabled session ('drop-in’ events outside of timetabling have historically been poorly attended). Tutors can best demonstrate to their class how archival materials can support their students' studies for their particular modules. 

Above: A good lead time on sessions allows staff to carefully select collections and items that will best support your students' studies as well as give them plenty of materials to examine!


Over the course of the last academic year we reached 252 students across 23 teaching sessions. Students from all years and levels of study visited from a range of courses, including Knitwear Design, Fashion Buying, Textiles Design, Contour fashion, Museum Design, Creative Writing, Photographic History, Sports History, English, History and Theatre Studies.

Above: In February 2023, Archivist Marina Afonso introduced the Andrew Logan archive to Fashion and Textiles Masters students. The students returned to the archive to select pieces to display alongside their end-of-year show on the theme of punk and activism. 

Feedback from students was excellent, with the majority rating their sessions useful and interesting and stating their desire to return to Special Collections to incorporate archives into their work.  



A selection of feedback comments from students below demonstrates how inspiring and useful they found their sessions with Special Collections: 

  • Love the amount of history here - its so interesting to look at it all (also love the old books smell) 

  • It was nice looking at old collections as parts of it are similar to what I want to design 

  • As someone who doesn't like history, this has allowed me to find some enjoyment in the individual stories of people in the past. 

  • This was amazing! Very interesting to see and inspiring! 

  • Love it, I will be back! 

  • The lady had very good knowledge and inspiration to use in my project. 

  • I found coming to the archives extremely helpful when coming up with ideas for my creative writing 

  • Really enjoyed the session, allowed me to open up my options to what I can research/write. The large collection was intimidating at first but I quickly grew accustomed to the vast information 

  • Everything was fascinating and opened up new opportunities 

  • I enjoyed the archive visit and talk today. It was very informative and the array of archival information is fascinating. It was nice to visit in person rather than from behind a screen. Just the smell is intriguing. 

  • Very beautiful display of history, very informative and gives me a lot of creative ideas 

  • Great experience, all the material shown was interesting and tailored well to our subject. [Katharine] was amazing and lovely 

  • An excellent resource with very helpful and knowledgeable staff. Really useful as a research resource for historical design, fashion, social reference material 

  • Very exciting group session, can't wait to come back for more specifics in the future 

  • Staff are lovely and informative! Thanks for showing us the punk stuff and also the student work. 

  • So interesting, with lots of information about all sorts of subjects. I didn't know it existed or how to access it 


In Special Collections we pride ourselves on being a welcoming and safe space where students can explore and ask questions about the collections, their studies and our practices. For more information on teaching or any of our services please contact us at:




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