Fonds 1797 - Robert Allan Spencer fonds

Identity area

Reference code

UTA 1797


Robert Allan Spencer fonds


  • 1919-2012 (Creation)

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Extent and medium

12.43 m of records
(53 boxes + 3 oversized folders)

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Robert Allan Spencer, historian, educator and administrator, was born in Montreal on 9 November 1920. Following his undergraduate degree from McGill (BA 1941), he served with the Canadian Forces in Britain and Northwest Europe (1942-1946). After obtaining his MA in 1947 (University of Toronto) and his DPhil (St John's College, Oxford) in 1950, he joined the Department of History at the University of Toronto as a Lecturer. By 1964, he had achieved the position of full professor and in 1986, Professor Emeritus.

During his early years at McGill, Spencer joined the McGill University Canadian Officers Training Corps as a Cadet in 1941. By 1944, he had been promoted to Captain. After World War II, from 1958 to 1966, he served in the University of Toronto Contingent, Canadian Officers Training Corps as a Major, then as a Lieutenant Colonel and commanding officer (1962-1966). He then served on the COTC’s Board of Trustees to 2001.

In addition to serving as Associate Chairman of the Department of History from 1964 to 1967, Professor Spencer also served as Associate Dean, School of Graduate Studies, Division I (Humanities) from 1973 to 1976, and Director of the Centre for International Studies, which was established under his initiative in 1976. He was also instrumental in formulating the International Studies Programme from 1967 to 1972. During his tenure, he has taught courses on European history, with emphasis on German history during the 19th and 20th centuries. Related fields of interest include international relations, Canadian foreign policy and East-West relations in Europe, and he has researched, spoken and written extensively on these subjects both internationally and in Toronto.

Fluent in English, French and German with some knowledge of Italian, Spencer has served as a visiting professor at Historische Kommission zu Berlin, Friedrich Meinecke Institute, Free University of Berlin (1970), Facolta di Giurisprudenza, University of Siena (1985), St. Anthony’s College at Oxford (1986) and as a visiting fellow at the Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University (1987). Over the years, he as has been co-editor of the International Journal, and been an active member of several organizations and institutions including: the Canadian Historical Society, the Canadian Institute of International Affairs (CIIA), the Canadian German Conference, Atlantik-Brücke, the Atlantic Council of Canada, the Committee on Atlantic Studies and the Canadian Council for European Affairs. He also produced radio talks and documentaries for CBC.

During his sixty-year career as both an academic and a military commander, Professor Spencer has received numerous awards and recognition for his achievements. Most notably, he was awarded the Canadian Decoration (1964), the Jubilee Medal (1978), the Goethe Medal (1983) and the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit by the Federal Republic of Germany (1986). He has also received numerous research grants, including managing a major research grant of $275,000 from the Donner Canadian Foundation from 1978 to 1986. In 1998 he was given an Honorary Fellowship by Trinity College.

In 1948 Professor Spencer married Ruth Margaret Church. The couple had three children, Charles, Valerie Spencer Keyes and Katherine Spencer-Ross. Professor Spencer lives in Ottawa.

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Scope and content

This fonds documents the administrative and teaching duties of Robert Spencer, as a Professor Emeritus of History and a specialist in European history, especially German history in the 19th and 20th centuries. They also document his education and his participation in World War II; his extensive international research, publications and speaking engagements; as well as his involvement with professional associations and organizations such as the University of Toronto Contingent, Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC), the International Studies Programme and the Graduate Centre for International Studies, Altantik-Brücke, and the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE). Included is personal correspondence, correspondence with international organizations, government departments, embassies and consulates; lecture notes; manuscripts and addresses.

Also present are two sous-fonds. The first is the personal papers of his wife, Ruth Margaret Church Spencer, who served with the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRENS) during World War II as a base librarian and afterwards as the first professional librarian at Canada House in London. The second consists of files compiled by Ralph Flenley, a specialist in German history and sometime chair of the Department of History: examination questions, student mark books, and drafts of an unpublished manuscript on Anglo-German relations.

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Conditions governing access

All files are open, with the exception of the following files:

  • File B2010-024/001(04) is restricted for 30 years from last date of file activity.
  • The student mark books in B2013-0005/021(46) and (47) are subject to review under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

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Related units of description

  • Canadian Officers’ Training Corps: B1978-1302, B1977-0029, B1993-0045
  • Centre for International Studies: A2011-0013 (contains files pertaining to the Centre for International Studies; originally included with donation by Robert Spencer as part of B2010-0024), A1987-0034, A1999-0008, A1995-0007, A1999-0001, B1988-0007
    -University of Toronto. Department of History: A1990-0023
  • University of Toronto. International Studies Programme: A2009-0006

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