Women's and Gender Studies
B.A., University of California (Riverside); M.A., University of California (Santa Barbara); Ph.D., University of California (Santa Cruz)
Elena Tajima CreefProfessor of Women’s and Gender Studies
Engaged in research on Asian American visual history and Native American cultural studies including sacred 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 2019. My first two books, Imagining 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.
More recently, I spent eight years doing archival research on Japanese women and photography that was a pure labor of love. Shadow Traces examines visual archives of four groups of Japanese/American 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, picture brides at the turn of the century, photographs of the incarceration of the Japanese-American population during WWII, and a postwar picture album kept by my own Japanese war bride mother. 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: Elvis Presley, Techno-Orientalism, Asian Women in Film, and Rainbow Cowboys and Cowgirls (a multicultural approach to the history of the American West). Right now, I’m in the early stages of planning a new interdisciplinary course that will be called “Women and Horses.”
Twenty-three years ago, my colleague, good friend (and apparently a prophet), Geeta Patel said, “Creef, you really need to develop a research project on horses.” I remember asking her at the time, “but what would that even look like?” I had no idea that it would take me two decades to launch myself headlong into the world of sacred Lakota horse rides and communities in the Dakotas. Since I started this journey in 2013, I have never looked back. These days, I literally follow the change of seasons according to the schedule of sacred Lakota prayer rides I’ve been privileged to support and participate on that include The Future Generations Ride (formerly known as The Chief Big Foot Ride) to Wounded Knee, South Dakota, the Victory Ride to commemorate the Battle at Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn) in Montana, the Dakota 38 Ride in Mankato, Minnesota, and the recent ride to Fort Laramie, Wyoming to observe the 150 year anniversary of the signing of the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty.
My hope is that by working in partnership with my Lakota friends, we can produce some invaluable documentation of these rides that can be shared in public form—as podcasts, photo-essays, and as a book that can be used for teaching Native youth about this rich history and legacy.