USF's Museum Blog

Elizabeth Peña Digs Social Justice

by Cornelia Bleul-Gohlke

Elizabeth-Pena-copyWe welcome archaeologist and curator Elizabeth Peña to the University of San Francisco faculty.  Elizabeth is currently teaching the Museums and Social Justice course. In Fall 2014, she will teach an archaeology elective for Museum Studies students.

As a student in University of San Francisco’s Museum Studies program, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth at the Center for the Arts, Religion, and Education at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley where she serves as interim director.

Elizabeth’s passion for museums began during her childhood visits to the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Historical Society and Cranbrook Institute of Science where she was often the only girl in the hands-on science classes.  Elizabeth received her BA in Classical Archaeology from the University of Michigan, and went on to a PhD in Archaeology at Boston University where she became interested in issues surrounding cultural properly and ethics.  She has worked as an archaeologist in academia, in government, and in the private sector, most prominently at the beautiful Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site, a colonial French and British fort in upstate New York.

As Curator of Anthropology at Buffalo Museum of Science, Elizabeth worked with a large anthropological collection, with particular strengths in the South Pacific and South America. She left to accept the position of Director of the Art Conservation Department at Buffalo State University, one of four graduate programs in the U.S. that trains art conservators. She says that she loved being involved in art conservation education and its ethical dimensions, and in the larger conservation and museum community.

After five fulfilling years in Art Conservation, Elizabeth moved across the country to Berkeley, where her husband is Professor of Roman Archaeology at University of California, Berkeley. She served as faculty and interim museum studies chair at JFK University and executive director for Cultural Heritage Imaging, a non-profit San Francisco tech start up that focuses on new technologies for imaging museum collections, archaeological sites, and other cultural heritage features in order to provide greater community access.

In mid-November 2013, Elizabeth Peña was named Interim Director of the Center for the Arts, Religion, and Education.  She will be giving a public lecture there on March 10 about her research on Native American wampum an d it use in trade routes.

In her spare time, she reads voraciously and consults on museum grantwriting projects. She finds this to be a good way to keep current with “real life” in the museum world!

Center for the Arts, Religion and Education in Berkeley, CA

Center for the Arts, Religion and Education in Berkeley, CA

Elizabeth concluded our interview by saying: “teaching Museums and Social Justice at University of San Francisco fits perfectly into my lifelong professional practice. I’m thrilled to be working with Paula Birnbaum and Marjorie Schwarzer and the great USF Museum Studies student cohort!”

We are very happy to dig deeply into social justice with Dr. Elizabeth Peña!

Summer 2014 update:  The board of the Center for Arts, Religion, and Education at the Graduate Theological Union is thrilled to announce the appointment of Dr. Elizabeth Peña as its new Executive Director.

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