Elena Creef

Professor of Women's and Gender Studies

Engaged in research on Asian American visual history, the New American West, and Native American horse cultures.

I came to Wellesley straight out of my PhD program in the History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz in the fall of 1993 to develop courses in Asian American women's and gender studies—which remains my personal, intellectual, and theoretical passion.

My research and teaching have long engaged with questions of the representation of Asian American women from the silent film era to the pop culture phenomenon known as #AsianAugust 2018. My first two books, Imaging Japanese America: The Visual Construction of Citizenship, Nation, and the Body (NYU Press, 2004) and Following Her Own Road: Miné Okubo (University of Washington Press 2008) focus on the gendered legacy of wartime Japanese American internment camp experience in art, culture, and historical American memory.

My most recent book Shadow Traces: Seeing Japanese/American and Ainu Women in Photographic Archives (University of Illinois Press, 2022) examines visual archives of four groups of women from the early to mid-twentieth century in America. My analyses include photographs of indigenous Japanese Ainu women at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, Japanese picture brides at the turn of the century, Japanese American Nisei women incarcerated during WWII, and at World War II Japanese war brides. My study builds a case for understanding the influential role of photographic archives in shaping Asian/American women’s history.

When people ask me, “What do you teach?” I enjoy confounding them with my long and eclectic list of courses that include everything from Elvis Presley, Techno-Orientalism, the WWII Japanese American Incarceration, Asian Women in Film, and Rainbow Cowboys and Cowgirls in the American West. I’m excited that in the Fall of 2024, I will be launching my last new course at Wellesley College--a feminist Animal Studies course on “Humans and Horses.”

These days, I literally follow the change of seasons according to the schedule of memorial Lakota and Dakota horse rides that take place at different times of the year. Since 2015, I’ve been privileged to support and participate on the annual rides to remember the tragic historical events at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, Mankato, Minnesota, and Whitestone Hill, North Dakota. My current project “36 Views of a Horse Nation” documents how the horse has been instrumental as a literal vehicle for healing from historical trauma. As a lifelong horsewoman, I have always understood their power and appeal.


  • B.A., University of California (Riverside)
  • M.A., University of California (Santa Barbara)
  • Ph.D., University of California (Santa Cruz)