Jen Mathews in a cap and gown, smiling, surrounded by other professors
Jen Mathews Selected As Piper Professor
Trinity anthropologist one of only 10 professors in Texas to earn the honor this year
Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Sociology and anthropology professor Jennifer P. Mathews, Ph.D., was selected as a 2020 Piper Professor. She is one of only 10 professors that were named Piper Professors in Texas this year. Organized in 1950, the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation is a non-profit, charitable corporation focused on post-secondary education in Texas. Each year, the foundation selects Piper Professors from across Texas for their superior teaching at the college level. In determining the recipients, the Foundation also considers research, publication, and related activities.  

"Dr. Mathews is an exceptional teacher with the rare ability to transform a traditional classroom into a site of rich discussion and deep inquiry,” says Deneese L. Jones, Ph.D., Trinity’s Vice President for Academic Affairs. “She provides challenge and support, in equal measure, so that students rise to new heights. Her students credit her with 'broadening their worldviews,' which in my estimation is one of the highest compliments a teacher can ever receive. In her tenure at Trinity, Dr. Mathews' brilliance in the classroom has long been a source of inspiration for students. I congratulate her mightily."

Mathews teaches courses in archaeology and biological anthropology. She organizes a service project every semester in her classes to raise money for a cause related to the class, such as the San Antonio Food Bank (“Eating and Drinking in the 19th Century”) or supporting Maya women artisans in Mesoamerica (“Pre-Columbian Art of Mesoamerica” and “Seminar on the Ancient Maya”). Last semester, her Anthropological Ethics students raised $400 to support “Operation ID,” a human rights project at Texas State University that helps identify the skeletal remains of migrants who have died crossing the Texas border, so that they may be returned to their families. 

In the San Antonio area, Mathews works with museums such as the San Antonio Museum of Art teaching docents about ancient Mesoamerica and is currently working with their Associate Curator of Latin American Art, Lucía Abramovich, on a reinstallation of the Pre-Columbian Art Collection. She has previously curated two exhibits: "The Modern Maya: The Photographs of Macduff Everton" and "Crafting Maya Identity." 

She studies ancient and historical Maya archaeology, as well as issues of sustainability and tourism. Mathews' earlier research focused on the ancient Maya, studying roads, architecture, and the layout of sites. Over the last fifteen years, she has concentrated on the post-Colonial period of the Yucatán Peninsula (1810–1910), looking at railroad systems, the extraction of commodities like chicle (the base for chewing gum), sugarcane and rum production She has been conducting fieldwork and archival research in Mexico since 1993.

She has written journal articles, book chapters, and three edited books on Maya archaeology: Quintana Roo Archaeology (with Justine Shaw), Lifeways in the Northern Maya Lowlands: New Approaches to Archaeology in the Yucatán Peninsula (with Bethany Morrison), and The Value of Things: Prehistoric to Contemporary Commodities in the Maya Region (with Tom Guderjan). She also published the monograph Chicle: Chewing Gum of the Americas - From the Ancient Maya to William Wrigley (with Gillian Schultz), and her most recent work, Sugarcane and Rum: The Bittersweet History of Labor and Life on the Yucatán Peninsula, was just published this April. 

Mathews was also named the 2019 recipient of the Dr. and Mrs. Z.T. Scott Faculty Fellowship in recognition of her outstanding abilities as a teacher and mentor. She has taught at Trinity since 1999, received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from San Diego State University and her master’s degree and doctorate in anthropology from the University of California – Riverside.

Sydney Rhodes '23 helped tell Trinity's story as a writing intern for Strategic Communications and Marketing.

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