Dr. Janet D. Spector, professor emerita, former assistant provost, and groundbreaking scholar of gender studies and American archaeology, died September 13 at her home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She was 66.
Her death came after a long struggle with a recurrence of breast cancer, said her partner, Kathleen O'Malley.
Dr. Spector was the author of What This Awl Means: Feminist Archaeology at a Wahpeton Dakota Village, from the Minnesota Historical Society Press in 1993. What some took by its title to be an esoteric monograph was actually a work of autobiography, imagination and science. She regarded herself as a natural archaeologist, who, as a youngster, perused neighborhood garbage cans looking for interesting artifacts. In What This Awl Means she imagines what the young owner of a particular tool - a carved awl, or punching tool - might have done with it and what her activities might have said about the relationships between men and women in the context of Dakota culture of the 1830s. The volume, which included meticulous documentation of the physical evidence, is recognized as a path-breaking study that established the possibility of gender analysis of archaeological evidence. Dr. Spector was one of the first American archaeologists to consult with native peoples as she planned and pursued her research. In addition to What This Awl Means, Dr. Spector contributed many essays and reviews to the literature of anthropology.
Though she was dedicated to the craft of archaeology and spent two dozen summers in the field, in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Canada and Israel, Dr. Spector had little patience for its ephemera. After spending several months in the lab extracting and analyzing microscopic seeds from soil samples, the research that led to her master's degree in 1970, she took a break from graduate school to become active in the feminist and antiwar movements, which were efflorescent in Madison. "Seed analysis was too far removed from anything in the world I cared about," she wrote in What This Awl Means.
With other anthropology graduate students, she started an alternative school in Madison. There she developed a hands-on archaeology curriculum oriented toward younger students and acquired a lifelong interest in pedagogy. After a year, she returned to the university and completed her doctorate. In 1973, she accepted a position in the anthropology department at the University of Minnesota.
Janet Doris Spector was born in Madison, Wisconsin, on October 21, 1944. Dr. Spector attended public schools in Madison and went on to do her undergraduate and advanced degrees at the university. Throughout her career she was committed both to scholarship and to teaching. As a young professor at Minnesota, she integrated elements of the alternative school curriculum with her course plans for freshmen and sophomores. In1986, she received the university's most prestigious teaching honor, the Horace Morse-Amoco Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education.
Dr. Spector spent most of her professional career at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She became an emeritus professor of anthropology in 1998. She was a founder of the women's studies program at Minnesota and served as its chair from 1981 to 1984. Later, she was appointed a special assistant of a task force designed to assess conditions for women at the university in the wake of landmark sex discrimination litigation. In 1992 she was promoted to assistant provost; in that role, she chaired the university's 70-person Commission on Women, leading an effort to transform the academic culture that remained hostile to women. In 1995, the university named an annual award for women's leadership for Dr. Spector and two colleagues. She was also instrumental in establishing the Center for Advanced Feminist Studies at the University of Minnesota. After her retirement from the university, she maintained an active professional life as a consultant and archaeologist.
In addition to her partner, Kathleen O'Malley, Dr. Spector is survived by her brother, Robert Spector, and his wife, Diane Brinson, of Madison; her cousins, John and Andrew Dizon, of Minneapolis; David Rogers, of Singapore, and Travis and Nancy Rogers and their two children, Drew and Will, of New Brighton, Minnesota. David and Travis Rogers are the children of her partner of more than 20 years, Dr. Susan Geiger, an historian who died in 2001.
[Obituary by Barbara Noble]