Nicky Hallett

Since Monique and I launched this blog in September, I’ve wanted to feature a nun. As I wrote, revised and scrapped posts though, I realised that, despite a number of early modern Catholic nuns having characteristics that inspire me, many were also problematic figures. Some advocated crusading, others participated in aggressive missionisation among indigenous populations. In short, many were not people I feel comfortable labelling historical hotties. I’m sure that as I move forward in my research, I’ll learn about and feature some of the nuns I study. For now, I’m excited to post about an incredible, provocative historian of nuns: Nicky Hallett.

In 2013 Hallett published The Senses in Religious Communities, 1600-1800: Early Modern ‘Convents of Pleasure. For readers unfamiliar with sensory history, I believe this book will prove to be one of the genre’s great works. Early modern histories of the senses have tended to apply anachronistically present-day notions about the senses to the past. But Hallett avoids approaching the sensory experiences of nuns from present-day perspectives. Instead, she respects the priorities of her historical subjects where the senses were concerned.

Although the Teresian Carmelite nuns she studies meditated on senses such as smell in order move out of their bodies and closer to the divine, Hallett does not dismiss the ways they understood or experienced their senses as backward, incorrect or delusional. Instead, she presents the nuns’ practice of mastering their senses as a demonstration that both notions about and experiences of the senses are plural and mutable rather universal and fixed. Hallett points out that “secular philosophers necessarily have conceptualised smell from a human point of view.”[1] By contrast, the nuns she studies used the senses in order to bring themselves nearer to God. By taking seriously the Teresian Carmelite discipline of mastering the senses, Hallet undermines the essentialist assumption that each sense has a true/natural mode of operation.[2]

What’s most important about Hallett’s argument is that it does not perpetuate ideas that early modern people understood their senses incorrectly. Rather, she shows the plurality of valid ways of sensing, knowing and being. This isn’t just good news for students of history like myself who want to study the senses respectfully and meaningfully. It’s also an affirmation for those of us interested in challenging right now—today—assumptions that certain present-day cultures have more truthful ways of knowing and being in the world than others.



[1] Hallett, Nicky. The Senses in Religious Communities, 1600-1800 : Early Modern “Convents of Pleasure.” (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), 164.

[2] Ibid., 162, 164.

Nicky Hallett

Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance (Sylvester Clark Long)


[A photo of Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance smiling]

Another Friday, another Historical Hottie. Today we are graced with the smiling face of Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance, born December 1st, 1890 as Sylvester Clark Long. Both his parents were born enslaved, and according to the film Long Lance, were each of mixed background (Black, Indigenous, and White). He initially gained fame as a writer, after publishing his autobiography, going on to become an actor in the mid-twentieth century. He attended the Carlisle Indian School in the United States, infamous in its abuse of not only Indigenous but also Puerto Rican and African American youth.

Long Lance eventually went on to star in the 1930 film The Silent Enemy. He was a strong advocate for representing Indigenous Peoples and cultures respectfully within mainstream Euro-America and Euro-Canada. For many years he hid his identity as a man of mixed background (Black, European, Indigenous). Unfortunately, when his identity was revealed, this caused Long Lance to suffer to the point of committing suicide in 1932 (some people believe he was actually murdered). His will left all of his wealth towards aiding Indigenous youth in Alberta.

Although I do not want to refute Long Lance’s lived experiences and his family’s Indigenous claims, I think it is also important to acknowledge that his claims of being Indigenous are muddled in the half truths of any personal history and are still contested. It is also important to situate him within the broader history of Black Americans and White Americans claiming Indigenous history, often times with little evidence but other times with accuracy – especially in relation to Black Americans who are often denied being Indigenous due to anti-Black racism.

Today’s Historical Hottie is a gentle reminder that compassion and acceptance for each and every one of us can go a long way.

~ M


Long Lance. Online. Directed by Bernie Dichek. 1986.

Reel Injun. Online. Directed by Neil Diamond. 2011.

Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance (Sylvester Clark Long)

Elizabeth Caton

In 1732, Elizabeth Caton was tried for stealing a watch from a gentleman identified as C. B. Caton’s trial is typical of contemporary English pickpocketing cases. To begin, the defendant was a woman and the prosecutor (who, in the contemporary criminal justice system, was also the victim) was a man. In addition, although the charge was for theft and not soliciting sex (which was not strictly illegal at the time), sex nonetheless featured most prominently in the testimonies. C. B. alleged that Caton had lured him into a pub under the guise of sharing her company, all the while intending to filch whatever she could. In her defence, Caton testifed that C. B. took her to a private room, offered her money for sex (to which she admitted to acquiescing out of financial necessity) and asked that she “go and fetch some Rods to whip him.” C. B. denied this, but the judge was sceptical. He asked C. B. outright if he was in the habit of “pick[ing] up Women, and carry[ing] them into a private Room without any Design?” The jury was equally unimpressed; the record shows that Caton was acquitted despite having been discovered with the stolen watch concealed on her person.

Caton’s crime was a capital one.* Considering the gravity of the situation, it initially seems surprising that Caton chose to discuss sex unabashedly in her defence. As a poor, early eighteenth-century English woman, Caton’s character (her credibility, her employability) hinged on her reputation for chastity. Yet she did talk about selling sex, and it is this choice, not her theft, that gives her some features of a historical hottie.

Eighteenth-century England had jury trials. And, since there were property restrictions controlling jury eligibility, juries were comprised mostly of men of the middling sort. Like today, most defendants came from the working classes, and were thus tried by their “social superiors.” Certainly, this was the case with Caton, who discussed her poverty openly. Within this judicial system, Caton’s options were: 1) to convince the jury that she was reputable, or 2) that C. B. was even less reputable than she. Caton recognised this and worked the system to her advantage by giving testimony that cast doubt on C. B.’s sexual reputation. She accused him outright of harbouring sadomasochisitic desires. Or, in the eyes of contemporaries, of outlandishly subverting the social order by allowing a woman, especially a “socially inferior” one, to dominate him.

It is important to be mindful that, although Caton benefitted in the courtroom by defaming the sexual morality of C.B., she was also tarnished by the mutual sexual defamation. Nevertheless, she played a patriarchal and deeply status-based judicial system against itself. By convincing a jury of her “social superiors” that a gentleman—a man with the responsibility to exemplify goodly morality to his social inferiors—had fostered this kind of disorderly behaviour, she used repressive tropes to her own advantage and saved her life.


*Judicial discretion in this era was notorious, however women thieves were sometimes hanged, imprisoned or transported to penal colonies, so it was by no means a foregone conclusion that a pardon, full or otherwise would be forthcoming.


OBPO, 14 January 1732, trial of Elizabeth Caton, (accessed 4 December 2015).

John M. Beattie, Crime and the Courts in England, 1660-1800 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 35.

Olwen Hufton, The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Early Modern Europe (London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995), 267-269.

John H. Langbein, “The Criminal Trial Before the Lawyers,” University of Chicago Law Review 45, no. 2 (Winter 1978): 305.

———. The Origins of Adversary Criminal Trial. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Robert B. Shoemaker, Prosecution and Punishment: Petty Crime and the Law in London and Rural Middlesex, c. 1660-1725 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991),

Elizabeth Caton