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Robert Francis Spencer papers

Identifier: uarc 784

Scope and Content

This collection consists primarily of correspondence pertaining to various subjects including Spencer's decision to reject a position at the University of Nevada, his American Anthropological Association visiting lecture program, letters to St. John's University and other institutions, correspondence with the Peace Corps, letters and project descriptions regarding SPAN (Student Project for Amity among Nations), and information on his arctic research in Point Barrow, Alaska: ethnography, progress reports, field activities, and proposals. Also contained in the collection are various publications and essays, grant proposals, information on the Wartenstein Conference, and financial and travel arrangements for arctic research.


  • 1950-1977


Language of Materials

Collection materials in English

Use of Materials

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). Requests to publish should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives.

Biographical Sketch of Robert Francis Spencer (1917-1992)

Robert Francis Spencer, B.A. (1937), Ph.D. (1946) University of California - Berkeley; M.A. (1940) University of New Mexico. Professor and chair of anthropology at the University of Minnesota. Cultural anthropologist who studied kinship, ethnography, linguistics, and nationalism, and was known for his publication The North Alaskan Eskimo: A Study in Ecology and Society.

R.F. Spencer was born in San Francisco, California on March 30, 1917. He received a B.A. degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1937 and a Ph.D. in 1946. He earned his master's in anthropology from the University of New Mexico in 1940.

Spencer was an instructor of anthropology at Reed College (1946), and assistant professor the University of Oregon, Eugene (1947) before being appointed as assistant professor in 1948 at the University of Minnesota. He was promoted to associate professor in 1952 and professor and acting chairman of the anthropology department in 1956. Dr. Spencer served as department chair three times during his 39 years at Minnesota, and he also at one time chaired the program in Middle East Studies. Robert Spencer retired from the University in 1986 as professor emeritus and died on June 9, 1992 at the age of 75.

Spencer was a cultural anthropologist, with wide-ranging interests in cultural ecology, ethnography, linguistics, kinship, religions, folklore, nationalism, urbanization, and ethnopoetics. He was fluent in four languages and had a reading knowledge of more than ten others.

Spencer was well known for his field work, which began during his tenure at the University of New Mexico studying linguistic and ethnographics of the Keresan Indians (1938-1940). In addition, he spent time with Japanese-Americans in a relocation center in Arizona (1942-1943), studied the cultures of Turkey (1954), lived in a Burmese monastery (1954-1955), and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to study the poetry of Pakistan (1965-1966). From 1952-1953, Spencer lived among the North Alaskan Eskimos on a research contract from the Office of Naval Research and the Arctic Institute of North America to study ethnography and human ecology. Out of this field research came his monograph: The North Alaskan Eskimo: A Study in Ecology and Society, which was considered years ahead of its time. His other publications included studies of American Indian tribes and languages, religions and cultures in Asia, as well as studies of factory girls in South Korea. In 1989, former students and colleagues published a volume of essays in his honor.

Spencer was a fellow of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) for whom he did visiting lectures, a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and Sigma Xi.


0.85 Cubic Feet (3)


Collection contains the papers of Robert Francis Spencer, professor emeritus of anthropology and department chair at the University of Minnesota.

Arrangement of Collection

The collection has been arranged in chronological order.

Source of acquisition

Collection received from the Department of Anthropology on August 5, 1987.

  • Ethnology. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
Robert Francis Spencer Papers, 1950-1977
University Archives Staff
July 2006
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area