Iberian History at Oxford

If you are interested in the histories of Spain, Portugal, and the wider Iberian world, check out what’s happening in Iberian History at Oxford. You can find information about our group and many events on our website, iberianhistory.web.ox.ac.uk

I am fortunate to co-convene the Iberian History Seminar with my friends and colleagues Giuseppe Marcocci, Glyn Redworth, and Cecilia Tarruell. A wonderful community of scholars and students — both local and visiting — meet regularly at our seminar, as well as in a lively reading group, palaeography group, and for other special events.

Keep an eye on our website for forthcoming videos of recent seminar talks. Make sure to follow us on Twitter @IberiaHistoryOx !

Hello from Oxford!

One month ago I began my post as Sir John Elliott Junior Research Fellow in Spanish History (1400-1900) at Exeter College, University of Oxford. The big move from Montréal went well and I’m finding Oxford to be a beautiful place. I’m delighted to be working with so many friendly and generous people here at Exeter College.


Some things to look forward to this term:

On November 9, I’ll be presenting “Race, Religion, and the Moriscos in Sixteenth-Century Spain” at Race in the Iberian World, 1400-1700, a workshop held at Exeter College organized by Antonio Feros (University of Pennsylvania) and Giuseppe Marcocci (Exeter College, Oxford). In addition to the organizers and myself, the other speakers are Carmen Fracchia (Birkbeck, University of London) and Chloe Ireton (University College London).

On 13 November, I’ll be giving a talk titled “Moriscos, Conversion, and Negotiating Identities in Early Modern Spain,” at the meeting of Oxford’s Early Modern World Seminar, a series organized by Giora Sternberg (Hertford College, Oxford) and Giuseppe Marcocci (Exeter College, Oxford).

On 6-7 December, I’ll be presenting my paper “‘What reason is there to conserve the seed of such fierce and cruel enemies?’: Reading race and genealogy in debates over the expulsion of the Moriscos,” at Purity of Blood: The Iberian World in Comparative Perspective, a symposium at King’s College London organized by Francisco Bethencourt (King’s College London).

I am also a co-convener of the Iberian History Seminar and the Iberian History Reading Group, and I’ll write in more detail about our upcoming events soon!



Conversion & Family

I recently presented my paper “Genealogical Inheritance and the Question of Morisco Children” at the Early Modern Conversions conference (22-25 August 2018; McGill University, Montréal). I’ve been intrigued by the reappearing themes of family and children in my research over the past two years as postdoctoral fellow with the EMC team. This small, interdisciplinary conference (the final “team meeting” of our five-year project!) provided a friendly place to reflect upon these connections.

I began my paper with a brief discussion of the complex relationship between belief and practice in the sixteenth-century Spanish kingdoms with particular reference to the Moriscos. Moriscos were Iberian Muslims forcibly converted to Catholicism beginning in 1502, along with their descendants, who were expelled from the Spanish Kingdoms in the early seventeenth century.

My paper illustrated how matters of family remained centrally important in understanding how conversion could work or be undermined. Ties of kinship and marriage between Moriscos and segregated residential areas were perceived as impediments to their social assimilation and religious conversion as Catholics. Morisca mothers were suspected of teaching their children Islamic customs and beliefs within the home and Morisco parents were accused of never taking their children to church or marrying them to Old Christians. Morisco lineage was decisive, too, as descendants of Muslims were perceived as having impure genealogy (measured by their blood purity, or limpieza de sangre). And throughout this era, there were ongoing debates over the Moriscos’ genealogical inheritance and the question of what to do with Morisco children.

My research considers these issues by asking:

  • how religious and government leaders attempted to enforce Morisco religious conversion and social conformity by controlling Morisco children and separating Morisco families.
  • about the clash between the endurance of hope in next generation of converts and the ultimate rejection of Moriscos from Spanish Catholic society.
  • and about the language used in a wide range of sources to describe ancestry, lineage, inheritance, and early concepts of race. (The next phase of my research will build on my current work by considering how identifying and categorizing Morisco lineage and status related to the wider construction of racialized categories of difference in the early Spanish empire. I’ll undertake this work as Junior Research Fellow in Spanish History at Exeter College, Oxford University, beginning September 2019.)

In this paper, I presented two sets of examples from my recent research for thinking about conversion and family. The first was the liberation of enslaved Morisco children. Many Granadan Moriscos were enslaved during the Second War of the Alpujarras (1568-70). King Philip II declared the captivity of Morisco minors to be illegal and ordered manumitted Morisco youth be placed as servants in the homes of Old Christian families and ecclesiastics. This law was intended as a mechanism for conversion by bringing liberated Morisco children into Catholic society, keeping them separated from their families while they were educated and assimilated. This is the topic of my article “Litigating for Liberty: Enslaved Morisco Children in Sixteenth-Century Valladolid” (available in RQ 70,4), which I also discuss in a recent podcast.

The second example I presented was how debates over families and children were central to the expulsion of the Moriscos in the early seventeenth century; I wrote article (currently under peer review) on the topic of Morisco non-conformism that considers this issue. Belief in the potential of the conversion of Morisco children endured during the expulsion, and I find evidence of this in opinions submitted by and to the Council of State. This hope was usually contingent on separating Morisco children from their families and communities. As in the case of Granadan minors liberated from captivity, the retention of Morisco children in the custody of Old Christians at the time of the expulsion aimed at their assimilation and conversion.

Presenters were invited to submit posters for a group exhibit. You can find the full conference program and poster collection on the EMC website. Here’s mine:

Conversion & family copy.jpg


The past two years as Early Modern Conversions postdoc have gone by very quickly! Getting to do this job has been a real gift to my work. I extend sincere thanks to team leader Paul Yachnin, my postdoc supervisor José Jouve-Martin, Marie-Claude Felton and Stephen Wittek, and to all of my colleagues in this project for supporting and enriching my scholarship.



Podcast! Moriscos, Enslaved Children, and Litigating for Liberty in sixteenth-century Spain.

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Kingdom, Empire and Plus Ultra: conversations on the history of Portugal and Spain, 1415-1898 is a podcast hosted by Dr. Edward Collins, a historian of early modern Portugal and Spain at University College Dublin.

I’m interviewed by Dr. Collins in Episode 16: “Moriscos, Enslaved Children, and Litigating for Liberty in sixteenth-century Spain.”  We discuss a range of topics related to the history of Muslim-Christian relations in early modern Spain, focusing on the research I conducted for my article “Litigating for Liberty: Enslaved Morisco Children in Sixteenth-Century Valladolid,” recently published in Renaissance Quarterly 70, 4 (Winter 2017).

Our interview concludes with a conversation about engaging emotionally & politically with early modern history, reflecting on parallels with modern and ongoing policies of family separation and internment.

If you’re interested in podcasts about Morisco history, check out Dr. Liz Covart’s interview with Dr. Karoline Cook in Episode 178 of Ben Franklin’s World: “Muslims and Moriscos in Colonial Spanish America.”

Enjoy, and thanks for listening!


Objects of Conversion

Can objects convert?

This is the guiding question for “Objects of Conversion in Early Modern Europe,” a conference that will take place at the University of California, Los Angeles in February 2018. The article I’ve proposed to workshop at one of the conference’s seminars is “Possessing Papers and Converting Status in Early Modern Spain.”

As a historian working with early modern manuscripts (mostly from the late fifteenth through early seventeenth centuries), I am interested in both the text and the materiality of archived records. My article is about the physical use of legal documents in the era in which they were produced. Specifically, who carried identity papers and how did those papers function?

Legal records are central to my wider research. My book project demonstrates how Moriscos (converts from Islam to Catholicism and their descendants) responded to assimilationist policies and inquisitorial prosecution with a range of legal actions to protect their families, privileges, and properties. Moriscos commonly wielded permits and proofs of identity when faced with arrests, deportations, or restrictions on their mobility and honour. The records they carried included passports, licences, letters of manumission, and legal records guaranteeing inherited privileges. I find those papers described or copied in court cases, censuses, notarial records, and royal correspondence.

In writing this article, I envision identity papers as objects of conversion. The acquisition and continued possession of such documents could convert the legal identity of the bearer, granting them access to mobility, privileges, and statuses denied to them in the absence of those papers. For individuals recognized as Moriscos, the physical possession and presentation of these documents during encounters with authorities was crucial for verifying identities, proving statuses, and claiming privileges. I’m especially interested in the material features that imbued these documents with judicial authority, including stamps, seals, notarial signatures and rubrics, as well as descriptions of oath-taking (both physical movements and spoken words).

My aim is to illustrate the physical use and judicial authority of identity papers to transform or contest the legal statuses of Moriscos in sixteenth-century Spain. After the Granadan War of 1568-70, for example, Moriscos deportees from that kingdom were banned from travelling, relocating, or carrying weapons. Many Granadan Moriscos requested legal documents that exempted them from some or all of these prohibitions; a good number were successful. Merchants applied for passports in order to travel for trade, gaining access to routes, markets, and freedom of mobility otherwise denied by law to Granadan Moriscos. Deportees who were destitute could alter their legal territorial enlistment by requesting license to relocate, usually to find work or family who could support them. Meanwhile, some deportees claimed complete immunity on the basis of having inherited the status and privileges of Old Christians from forefathers who had converted before 1502 — the year when all Muslims in the Crown of Castile had to choose between Catholic baptism and exile from Spain. Such legal conversions were contingent the possession of papers to alter the status of the bearer.



Archivo Histórico Provincial de Valladolid, Protocolos Notariales 584, folios 33r,v. 

In Valladolid on February 16, 1583, Vicente Calderón appeared before corregidor Armenteros (the city’s chief magistrate and administrator) and secretary Felipe Fanega. He presented a license to bear weapons issued to him by Don Juan de Austria. Calderón was a Granadan Morisco who had served the monarchy during the rebellion of the Moriscos and Granadan War of 1568-70. The commander of the royal forces, Don Juan de Austria, had rewarded his service with this license. But the paper had torn along the creases after years of carrying the license in his pocket, so Calderón asked Armenteros to issue a legal copy of the document. The corregidor and his secretary examined the document, which was deemed legitimate as it was signed by Don Juan de Austria and bore his seal as well as the rubric of his secretary, Juan de Soto. The page in the image on the left describes the presentation and verification of the license; the page on the right is an authenticated copy of the license itself.


With this article, I want to think beyond the information conveyed by text and to think toward the material use of papers. Imagine them carried in pockets, presented before officials, copied by census-takers, and wielded in court. Think about the never-written papers requested for claims made and denied. Consider why it mattered to litigants to acquire copies of legal judgements and of evidence presented in lawsuits. Realize what it meant to have or not have those papers; understand who needed them and who did not. Study how they (and we) trust paper to carry authority and preserve truth.

Can you recommend readings on the topics of materiality and/or identity papers in the early modern era? I welcome comments below, or on Twitter!

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“Objects of Conversion in Early Modern Europe” will be hosted by McGill University’s Early Modern Conversions project (I’m the postdoc on this team!) and UCLA’s Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies. Proposals will be accepted until December 15, 2017. Check out the CFP here.