Frank Spencer was a historian of biological anthropology who began his career as a medical laboratory technician. His papers include correspondence, manuscripts, notes, research files, teaching materials, photographs, and audiotapes. Spencer's research on the Piltdown hoax as well as the Piltdown research of Ian Langham, whose work Spencer continued after his death in 1984, and Spencer's research on the life and career of Aleš Hrdlička for his dissertation are both represented in the collection.
Scope and Contents:
This collection documents the research and professional activities of anthropologist Frank Spencer through his correspondence, manuscripts, notes, research files, teaching materials, photographs, and audiotapes. As a historian of physical anthropology, Spencer did a great deal of archival research. Well-represented in the collection is Spencer's research on the Piltdown hoax as well as the Piltdown research of Ian Langham, whose work Spencer continued after Langham's death in 1984. Among the materials collected are negatives of Piltdown-related papers and negatives of Sir Arthur Keith's papers held at the Royal College of Surgeons. Spencer, who theorized that Keith was behind the Piltdown hoax, had organized his papers with a grant from Wenner-Gren. Also represented in the collection is Spencer's research on the life and career of Aleš Hrdlička for his dissertation. Although most of Hrdlička's papers and photos that Spencer collected are copies of materials held at the National Anthropological Archives (NAA), the collection does contain original correspondence between Hrdlička and his first wife, Marie Strickler; his childhood report card from 1869; and copies of family photos obtained from Lucy Miller, Hrdlička's niece. The collection also contains an audio recording of Hrdlička speaking at Wistar Institute. Spencer's 1975 taped interviews with Henry Collins, Harry Shapiro, Ashley Montagu, and Lucille St. Hoyme can also be found in the collection. Other projects represented in the collection include A History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia, The Origins of Modern Humans: A World Survey of the Fossil Evidence, and Fallen Idols, Spencer's unpublished book on the history of scientific attitudes towards human origins. In addition, the collection contains copies of Physical Anthropology News, which Spencer co-founded and edited. Photos in the collection include images of Frank Spencer as well as of the 1981 and 1988 annual meetings of the Association of American Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) and the 1980 symposium Spencer and Noel T. Boaz organized on the history of American physical anthropology.
Please note that the contents of the collection and the language and terminology used reflect the context and culture of the time of its creation. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology and considered offensive today. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution or National Anthropological Archives, but is available in its original form to facilitate research.
Frank Spencer was born in Chatham, England, on May 1, 1941. Best known as a historian of biological anthropology and for his book Piltdown: A Scientific Forgery (1990), Spencer began his career as a medical laboratory technician, publishing two books on medical laboratory procedures in 1970 and 1972. He immigrated to Canada, where he earned his BA in anthropology at the University of Windsor in Ontario in 1973. The following year, he enrolled at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, with C. Loring Brace as his advisor. Spencer wrote his dissertation on the life and career of Aleš Hrdlička and was awarded his PhD in biological anthropology in 1979. That same year he joined the faculty of the Department of Anthropology at Queens College as an assistant professor and was soon promoted to department chair in 1984. Over the course of his career, he wrote and edited several books on the history of physical anthropology including A History of Physical Anthropology, 1930-1980 (1992), The Origins of Modern Humans: A World Survey of the Fossil Evidence (1984), Ecce Homo: An Annotated Bibliographic History of Physical Anthropology (1986), and History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia (1997). Spencer was also a co-founder and editor of the Physical Anthropology News bulletins. It was his book Piltdown: A Scientific Forgery, however, that garnered him the most attention. In this book, he theorized that the well-respected Sir Arthur Keith master-minded the Piltdown hoax. On May 30, 1999 Frank Spencer died of cancer at the age of 58.
1941 -- Born on May 1 in Chatham, Kent, England
1964 -- Obtained Associate diploma in Clinical Microbiology, [Britain], Institute of Medical Laboratory Sciences
1966 -- Fellowship diploma in Clinical Parasitology
1971 -- Advanced diploma in Clinical Biochemistry & Microbiology, Canadian Society of Medical Laboratory Technology
1973 -- BA (Anthropology) University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada
1974 -- MA (Biological Anthropology) University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
1976-1977 -- Adjunct Lecturer, Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Windsor
1979 -- PhD, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, "Biological Anthropology, Aleš Hrdlička, MD (1869-1943): A Chronicle of the Life and Work of an American Physical Anthropologist"
1979-1982 -- Hired as Assistant Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, Queens College
1982 -- Published A History of American Physical Anthropology, 1930-1980
1983 -- Associate Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, Queens College
1984 -- Published The Origins of Modern Humans: A World Survey of the Fossil Evidence
1986 -- Full professor, Dept. of Anthropology, Queens College Published Ecce Homo: An Annotated Bibliographic History of Physical Anthropology
1990 -- Published Piltdown: A Scientific Forgery Published The Piltdown Papers 1908-1955: The Correspondence and Other Documents Relating to the Forgery
1997 -- Published The History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia
1999 -- Passed away on May 30 of cancer
Aleš Hrdlička papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
Donated in 2002 by Elena Peters-Spencer, wife of Frank Spencer.
To protect the privacy of individuals, some materials have been separated and access to them has been restricted.
Access to the Frank Spencer papers requires and appointment.