Associate Professor, Faculty Fellow
Modern and Classical Languages | Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Dr. Emily Colbert Cairns is an Associate Professor of Spanish at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island. She specializes in gender, converso and crypto-Jewish identity in the early modern period in the Spanish-speaking world, and has published with eHumanista, Chasqui, Cervantes Journal and Hispanófila. Her dissertation, “The Other Sephardic Diaspora: Feminine Representations of Sephardic Identity in the Early Modern Atlantic World,” deals with the role that women had in preserving and representing Sephardic traditions in a transatlantic context. She is the co-editor of Confined Women: The Walls of Female Space in Early Modern Spain (Hispanic Issues Online 2020) and she is the author of Esther in Early Modern Iberia and the Sephardic Diaspora: Queen of the Conversas (Palgrave 2017).
During her graduate studies at the University of California Irvine, she founded and ran a language exchange program that brought together university students learning Spanish with the local Spanish-speaking community.
Emily Colbert Cairns
Summary: Maternal milk is the first food practice that serves to control the female body, enabling certain women but not others from nursing infants. Dr. Colbert Cairns explores how authors in early modern Spain conceptualized breastmilk and the social practices associated with nursing and advocates mother’s breast is best, by comparing, Antonio de Guevara’s 1529 Relox de los princípes with Ana Francisca Abarca de Bolea’s Catorce vidas de santas de la order del císter (1655). In studying these texts together, she explores essential morays, real-life practices, and proposes an alternative way of understanding the body politic in early modern Iberia that is female-centered.
Colbert Cairns, Emily. “Mother’s Breast is Best in Early Modern Spain.” Journal of Gender and Sexuality Studies/Revista de Estudios de Género y Sexualidades, vol. 46, no. 1-2, 2020, pp. 19-41.
Abstract Only: DOI 10.14321/jgendsexustud.46.1-2.0019
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Edited by Stuart W. Halpern
Emily Colbert Cairns
Summary: Of all biblical figures, Esther is the most beloved amongst crypto-Jews, conversos who converted to Catholicism but lived privately as Jews. Between the years 1478 and 1834, many Jews throughout the Spanish-speaking world were under threat by death by the Inquisition for practicing the Jewish faith. Many fled Spain in what became known as the Sephardic diaspora and relocated to Northern Europe, the Ottoman Empire, Northern Africa and the New World. Esther, fittingly, serves as a beloved heroine and model in the writings of conversos from Spain and Portugal who were forced to live dual lives and hide their identity in Spain and in colonial Latin America. In this article, Emily Colbert Cairns explores the role that Esther held as a model for the crypto-Jewish Carvajal family and especially for the women in this family.
Colbert Cairns, Emily. “Saint Esther in Latin America.” Esther in America: The Scroll’s Interpretation in and Impact on the United States, edited by Stuart W. Halpern, Milford: Maggid Books, 2020, pp. 159-167.
McKillop Library Main Collection: BS580.E8 E884 2020
Emily Colbert Cairns
Summary: This book explores Queen Esther as an idealized woman in Iberia, as well as a Jewish heroine for conversos in the Sephardic Diaspora in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The biblical Esther – the Jewish woman who marries the King of Persia and saves her people – was contested in the cultures of early modern Europe, authored as a symbol of conformity as well as resistance. At once a queen and minority figure under threat, for a changing Iberian and broader European landscape, Esther was compelling and relatable precisely because of her hybridity. She was an early modern globetrotter and border transgressor.
Emily Colbert Cairns analyzes the many retellings of the biblical heroine that were composed in a turbulent early modern Europe. These narratives reveal national undercurrents where religious identity was transitional and fluid, thus problematizing the fixed notion of national identity within a particular geographical location. This volume instead proposes a model of a Sephardic nationality that existed beyond geographical borders.
Cairns, Emily Colbert. Esther in Early Modern Iberia and the Sephardic Diaspora : Queen of the Conversas. Cham, Switzerland, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.
McKillop Library Main Collection: BS575 .C34 2017