Jessica O’Leary

Research Fellow (from May 2021)
Gender and Women's History Research Centre

Jessica O'leary

Areas of expertise: women and gender; epistolarity; cultural history; diplomacy; cultural transfer; global encounter; early modern studies.

ORCID ID: 0000-0003-4260-522X


Location:ACU Melbourne Campus

Jessica O’Leary is a Research Fellow at the Gender and Women’s History Research Centre in the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences. She is a cultural and social historian specialising in gender studies with an interest in politics, diplomacy and cultural transfer, c. 1450-1700. Her essay on power-sharing between elite couples in northern Italian courts won the Royal Studies Journal prize for best essay by a Postgraduate or Early Career researcher. Her first monograph entitled Elite Women as Diplomatic Agents in Early Modern Italy and Hungary: The Aragonese Dynastic Network, 1470-1510 is under contract with ARC Humanities Press. She has also published book chapters on the history of emotions and letter-writing and has forthcoming book chapters on cultural encounter, trade, and diplomacy in the early modern period.

Currently, she is preparing a manuscript on the role of masculinities in the diplomacy and identity of elite young men during the Italian Wars. She is also developing various lines of research concerning cross-cultural encounters between the Catholic southern Mediterranean and sixteenth and seventeenth-century Brazil and Japan in addition to the history of women in colonial Brazil.

Select Publications

  • Elite Women as Diplomatic Agents in Early Modern Italy and Hungary, ARC-Humanities Press, Series: Gender and Power in the Premodern World, under contract, expected: 2021.
  • “Sons of Aries: Sixteenth-Century Italian Children as Diplomatic Objects and Agents in Wartime” Edited by Katie Barclay and Dolly McKinnon. Forthcoming, 2021.
  • “Two educational manuscripts for Massimiliano Sforza from the Biblioteca Trivulziana in Milan: the Grammatica del Donato and the Liber Iesus” Renaissance Children (23 October 2020 - 31 January 2021) edited by Samuel Mareel. Museum Hof van Busleyden, Mechelen
  • “New Christian family networks in the First Visitation of the Inquisition to Brazil” ed. Heather Dalton Keeping family in an age of long-distance trade, discovery, and settlement 1550 - 1850. Amsterdam University Press. Forthcoming 2021.
  • “Converting the Cityscape: Performing civic pride in accounts of the 1585 Tenshō boys’ Japanese embassy” eds. Katie Barclay and Jade Riddle. Mapping the Emotional Cityscape. Routledge. Forthcoming 2021.
  • “‘et me ha facta maior demonstratione come se fossi proprio figlio’: Ippolito d’Este and the epistolary contest for motherhood between Eleonora and Beatrice d’Aragona.” eds Monica Ferrari, Matteo Morandi, Federico Piseri, Hélène Thieulin- Pardo, Patricia Rochwert -Zuili. Scriver dei figli: lettere di genitori “eccellenti” tra la fine del Medioevo e l’Età moderna (XV-XVIII secolo) Forthcoming 2020.
  • "Wife, Widow, Exiled Queen Beatrice d’Aragona (1457–1508) and Kinship in Early Modern Europe" in Women on the Edge in Early Modern Europe eds Lisa Hopkin and Aidan Norrie (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2019), 139-158.
  • With Carolyn James, "Letter-writing and emotions" in The Routledge History of Emotions in Europe, 1100-1700 eds Susan Broomhall and Andrew Lynch (London: Routledge, 2019), 256-268.
  • “‘She performed miracles in women's clothing’: Eleonora d’Aragona and the defence of co-rulership” I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance, Vol 19, no 2 (November 2016) 285–307.


  • Gender, Cultural Translations, and Identity in the Jesuit Mission to Japan

This project explores the way in which gender influenced knowledge production and cultural translation in the Jesuit Mission to Japan. From the arrival of Francis Xavier in 1549 through to the expulsion of Catholic missionaries in the seventeenth century, the Jesuit mission developed new methodologies for intercultural understanding and communication. While the degree to which Japan’s “Christian Century” had a lasting impact has been contested, analysing Jesuit epistolography and ethnography can highlight the importance of gender in cultural mediation. Through an analysis of Jesuit ethnographies and pedagogy, I examine how Jesuit accommodation policies included gender when encountering the ethnic and cultural Other. By scrutinising how Jesuits perceived, conceived, and received gender roles in their experiences and ideology, this project will shed new light on contemporary practices of cultural translation and understanding.

  • Gender, Evangelisation, and Cultural Transfer in the Colonisation of Brazil

This project aims to understand how gender can be used to understand the complex interactions of early Brazilian society. From the early sixteenth century to the mid-seventeenth century, Portuguese colonisation of Brazil was marked by encounters with local tribes, the rise of the sugar trade, and slavery. These three spheres of society varied considerably in culture, language, and religion. As a result, the evangelisation of Brazil was viewed as necessary to the colonisation of its vast lands. Between 1549 and their expulsion in 1759, the Jesuits focused on the education of indigenous Brazilians and developed new models of transcultural communication. This project focuses on how gender was used in the difficult catechisation of indigenous tribes and what kind of cultural transfers occurred prior to the expulsion of the Jesuits. I argue that analysing the gendered strategies used by missionaries can help us recover an intersectional understanding of male and female experiences in colonial Brazil.

  • Women, the Environment, and Knowledge Transfer in Colonial Brazil, 1500-1800

This project seeks to shine a light on the influence of women in the colonisation of Brazil. Through analysing visual and textual sources left by missionaries and colonisers, I aim to recover the presence of women in contexts where their contributions have been underrepresented or invisible. For example, I will investigate the ways in which indigenous women were involved in the colonisation of Brazil and, in particular, the ways in which local knowledge about plants, terrain, and climate was transmitted. Identifying how women contributed to the project of colonisation beyond maternity is critical to improving our understanding of gender during this period. Therefore, this project will complement scholarship on gender in transcultural settings and increase our understanding of the roles of women in colonial Brazilian society.

Accolades and awards

  • Royal Studies Journal Early Career Researcher Article Prize (2018)
  • Monash Historical Studies Masters’ Prize (2017)
  • Cassamarca Dino De Poli Scholarship (2016)
  • Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst Award (2016)
  • Bill Kent Foundation Fellow (2013)
  • Ian Turner Memorial Prize (2012)
  • D. Legge Prize (2012)

Public Engagement

  • Exhibition Advisory Member: “Renaissance Children” Museum Hof van Busleyden (2021)
  • Contributor: Digital Humanities Project: “Clothing and textiles at the court of Mantua under Isabella d’Este” (2018)

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