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October 7, 2011

Janet D. Spector (1944–2011), In Memoriam

Filed under: Authors, History, MHS Author in the News, MHS press, Native American — Pamela McClanahan @ 10:25 am

Dr. Janet D. Spector, professor emerita and former assistant provost at the University of Minnesota, and groundbreaking scholar of gender studies and American archaeology, died September 13 at her home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after a long struggle with a recurrence of breast cancer. She was 66.

Dr. Janet Spector

Dr. Janet Spector

“Janet Spector began her 25-year career at the University of Minnesota in 1973, a tumultuous time in academia. History, sociology and other disciplines were cracking open their doors to women’s long-left-out perspectives, and female scholars were standing up for their work against considerable pushback.

“With a fine blend of energetic curiosity, intellectual firepower and personal charm, Spector not only contributed significantly to the field of American archaeology, but also helped pave the way for other female scholars, according to colleagues and friends.” (Excerpted from the Star Tribune obituary, accessed online October 2, 2011, “Prof. Janet Spector, pioneering scholar at U,” by Pamela Miller,

Curator Marcia Anderson reflects on Dr. Spector’s pioneering work for 10,000 Books:

“I last heard the voice of Professor Janet Spector at a session of the 2008 Berkshire Conference for Women in the Twin Cities. She spoke about the awl featured on the cover of her 1993 book, What this Awl Means: Feminist Archaeology at a Wahpeton Dakota Village (Minnesota Historical Society Press). Spector described the object as evocative. It is a handsome object, but what made it evocative for her was that it was a common tool that was both decorated and well used. To anyone who works with material culture those two qualities tell us why objects have so much meaning for humans–and why individuals save and museums preserve them.

“One of Spector’s greatest contributions to the field of archaeology is her pioneering work in the development of a task differentiation model. This model makes it possible to distinguish gender and to document the activities and lives of women through materials, such as the awl, recovered during archaeological excavations. “Evocative” is an excellent descriptor but I also think the awl could be described as iconic. Iconic because it has come to symbolize an opened floodgate for so many people-people hungry for the voices and stories of women, as well as men, in our global past.”

(Marcia G. Anderson is an independent curator and is writing a book on Ojibwe bandolier bags.)  For further perspecitve on Dr. Spector’s work and life, please see the obituary by Barbara Noble, published by the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts, here.

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