Collection Summary

Frank G. Speck and the Barren Ground Innu (Mushuau Innu, Naskapi) Collections at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, PA, USA

This web site features a selection of objects collected by University of Pennsylvania ethnologist Frank G. Speck (1881–1950) from the Barren Ground Innu (Mushuau Innu, Naskapi) in Labrador during the early twentieth century.

Speck spent his professional career studying North American Indian cultures at the University of Pennsylvania—beginning in the University Museum (1907–1911) and continuing as a faculty member and founding chair of the department of anthropology (1911–1950). His scholarship focused on Algonquian communities in the United States and Canada.

Speck was an avid and persistent fieldworker. For decades, he traveled to Innu communities in the Quebec-Labrador peninsula. He interviewed elders about language and cultural traditions, photographed individuals, and collected specimens. Later, Speck sold many artifacts to museums (such as the University Museum) to reimburse his fieldwork expenses. He developed long-term relationships with Innu people and traders, such as Richard White, Jr., who had first-hand experience with the Barren Ground Innu. Speck published widely and is well known for his book, Naskapi, published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1935 (reprinted in 1963 and 1977).

The University of Pennsylvania Museum’s ethnographic collections from the Barren Ground Innu represent the life ways of a small group of caribou hunters who lived in remote territories and reserves in northern Labrador during the early twentieth century.

Our collections are from two sources: Frank Speck and his student, Samuel Pennypacker. In 1930 and 1931, the Museum’s Board purchased two ethnographic collections from Speck. In 1969, additional Innu artifacts were donated as a bequest from Pennypacker.

The Museum’s first purchase of Barren Ground Innu materials consists of over two hundred objects assembled by Speck from 1920 to 1930 [object numbers 30-3-1 to 30-3-225]. The Speck collection was catalogued into the Museum’s permanent collections by Louis Shotridge, an Assistant Curator and Native Alaskan, in 1930.

The second collection of approximately one hundred objects was purchased in 1931 and catalogued by Speck himself [31-7-1 to 31-7-96]. It provides more extensive documentation of the material culture, particularly Speck’s linguistic efforts to transcribe and translate contemporary Barren Ground Innu words. Several examples of painted caribou clothing are in this collection, along with artifacts from other Labrador communities [31-7-97 to 31-7-107].

The third collection is the Samuel Pennypacker bequest of 1969 [70-9-1 to 70-9-803+]. This large collection of Innu and Inuit materials contains only a few items collected by Speck from the Barren Ground Innu. For several years, Pennypacker purchased Canadian Algonquian artifacts from Speck. Although several objects have firm documentation that they were collected by Speck, it is probable that more objects could be attributed to him through additional research. The Pennypacker collection was catalogued in 1973 by Dederick and Wagner, with later additions by others.

According to the Museum’s records, our Barren Ground Innu artifacts assembled by Frank Speck have not been exhibited as a collection. So we are especially pleased to provide digital access to our materials to a broad public audience through this award-winning Canadian web site. The Museum looks forward to future research collaborations and public programs with Innu communities and colleagues in Canada.