I was born and raised on the east coast of Canada in Fredericton, New Brunswick. I studied History and English for my undergraduate degree at the University of New Brunswick (BA Hons 2006). I earned my master’s degree and doctorate in History at the University of Toronto (MA 2008 and PhD 2016), both funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. From 2016 to 2018 I was the Postdoctoral Fellow in the Early Modern Conversions project at McGill University in Montréal. In September 2019 I joined Exeter College as the Sir John Elliott Junior Research Fellow in Spanish History (1400-1900). My partner and I have two young children. I enjoy reading novels, baking, watching movies, and any chance to travel or explore someplace new. I love visiting galleries and museums, and getting to do research in historical archives. I do my best writing with the help of coffee and loud music.
I am a historian of early modern Spain with research experience in the religious cultures and social and legal histories of fifteenth- to seventeenth-century Castile. My particular interests are histories of conversion, identity making, and categories of religious, social, and ethnic difference in the early Iberian empires. You can read about my work on my website: smcavanaugh.com
I am currently revising the manuscript for my first book, Morisco Conversions: Belonging, Status, and Legal Action in Early Modern Valladolid. The conversion of the Moriscos (Iberian Muslims converted to Catholicism and their New Christian descendants) was a multifaceted social and political problem in the early modern Spanish kingdoms. My book re-conceptualizes the politics of Morisco conversion by centering the voices and actions of the Moriscos themselves. I focus on Moriscos living in and around the royal town of Valladolid, in the heart of Old Castile. Each chapter analyzes a set of encounters between Moriscos and various officers and institutions of Church and State, from parish priests and municipal officials to the Spanish Inquisition and the monarchy. I illustrate how Moriscos routinely took legal action to defend their families, properties, and privileges in response to religious prosecution and policies aimed at their assimilation and conversion. Formal petitioning and litigating were tactics for surviving in an inquisitorial society. These local, everyday legal negotiations reveal that Morisco status was malleable and multiform, exposing the constructed nature of identities, communities, and boundaries of belonging in early modern Spain.
As a Junior Research Fellow at Exeter College, I am also undertaking the archival research for my second book project, with the working title Descendants of Converts: Race, Religion, and the Moriscos in Early Modern Spain. This work will locate, trace, and contextualize early concepts of race by asking how shifting ideas about blood purity (limpieza de sangre), religious difference, and foreignness were employed in the construction of racialized categories of difference in the sixteenth century.
Selected Publications and Talks
“Serán Siempre Moros? Assessing Conversion During the Expulsion of the Moriscos,” p.257-278 in The Conversos and Moriscos in Late Medieval Spain and Beyond. Volume 4: Resistance and Reform, ed. Kevin Ingram. Brill, 2021.
“In Defense of Community: Morisca Women in Sixteenth-Century Valladolid,” p.151-173 in Women and Community in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia, eds. Michelle Armstrong-Partida, Alexandra Guerson, and Dana Wessell Lightfoot. University of Nebraska Press, 2020.
“Moriscos, Enslaved Children, and Litigating for Liberty in sixteenth-century Spain” an interview recorded for Kingdom, Empire and Plus Ultra: conversations on the history of Portugal and Spain, 1415-1898, July 2018.
“Litigating for Liberty: enslaved Morisco children in sixteenth-century Valladolid,” Renaissance Quarterly 70, no.4 (Winter 2017): 1282-1320.