Professor Emma Cayley

Research interests

Professor Emma Cayley welcomes enquiries about postgraduate supervision (MRes, MPhil, PhD) in all areas of medieval French literature, society and culture, 1300-1550. Her research interests lie in French poetry, society, and culture of the period 1350-1550, particularly Alain Chartier and Christine de Pizan; medieval gender studies; literary and poetic community; text and image; the later reception and adaptation of medieval texts and the Middle Ages on film; manuscript studies; the history of the book; and digital humanities.

'My current research looks at how the material context of a work's reception can influence and shape its destiny. Readers of a text are influenced by this material context, as well as by generic expectations and their own cultural assumptions. For example, the œuvre of the fifteenth century court poet, Alain Chartier, is often transmitted in its manuscript tradition with works that debate gender, language, and morality. By looking at the way that works were transmitted and received, we can appreciate the implications of the texts more fully. Chartier and his contemporaries used poetry, not merely as a courtly pastime, but as a means of conveying meaning. French 'love' poetry of this period is not necessarily to be divorced from more overtly ‘political' poetry (these generic categories are problematic), and negotiates such political, religious, ethical, and social questions as the wars with the English and proper government, the healing of the Schism, the common good, gender and identity, and women's role in society.

Literary production during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in France was marked by a ‘collaborative culture' whereby authors and poets engaged with one another and the wider community through words on the page. I investigate how this poetic and literary playfulness is manifested in the material spaces provided by manuscript or early book context. This study takes in both intertextuality (how texts knowingly or unconsciously reference one another), and 'paratextuality' (how the text is arranged on the physical page as part of a book). In the case of manuscripts for example, I would be interested to examine miniatures, marginalia, and scribal doodling, textual corrections, or scribal additions which suggest something of the pre-modern life of the text, its production, and its immediate contemporary reception.'

Research projects

Research collaborations

  • Involvement with the International Courtly Literature Society (ICLS) culminating in the Triennial Congress in Lisbon: July 2013. Then as co-organiser with Tom Hinton (Exeter) of the British Branch ICLS conference in April 2014.
    • Reelected for a third term (2010-2013) as International Secretary of the International Courtly Literature Society (
  • Involvement with the International Alain Chartier Society (IACS, as Vice-President and co-founder).
  • On behalf of the IACS, with Daisy Delogu (UofChicago) and Joan McRae (MTSU), Emma was co-organiser of a very successful international day symposium and workshop hosted and sponsored by the University Center of Chicago, Paris, on 12-13th October, 2012. There were around 25 participants from the UK, France, Belgium, Switzerland and the States.
  • Emma is Vice-President (also co-founder) of the International Alain Chartier Society (founded May 2008 with Joan E McRae of Middle State Tennessee University, US):
  • Dr Olivier Delsaux of UcL, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, spent a term working with Emma at Exeter from October 2012. This enabled them to progress further with a critical edition, Un recueil aux teintes de la mélancolie. Édition du manuscrit Paris, BnF, fonds Rothschild 2798.,for which Emma now has a contract with French publishing house, Garnier. Olivier also participated in Emma's classes for MLF 3072.
  • An Erasmus teaching mobility arrangement was set up with Professor Tania Van Hemelryck of Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve. Tania visited Exeter in November 2012 and delivered a class to Emma's final year students on MLF 3072, as well as an open lecture for all staff and students. Emma visited Louvain in April 2013 and gave 5hrs of classes, including a Masters level class, and a paper (in French).
  • Emma was invited to deliver a keynote at the Université de Lausanne (UNIL) on 20th June 2013, as part of the ‘Figures, ethos, postures de l’auteur au fil des siècles’ conference. Plenary title: ‘“Je ne suis que l’escripvain”: La figure de l’auteur dans les débats poétiques au moyen-âge’ (Lecture in French).
  • She spoke at a journée d'études on the Jardin de Plaisance in Geneva in June 2014, and delivered an invited paper at a workshop on Textual Distortion at Stanford in May 2015. She is collaborating on a research project run by Professor Elaine Treharne at Stanford, and will visit Stanford again later in 2015 as a Text Technologies Fellow.
  • Emma headed up an international delegation from ML at Exeter to Beijing and Shanghai in June 2014: in Fudan the College of Humanities held a joint conference with staff from ML and Exeter's English Departments and staff from the College of Foreign Languages and Literatures; and she represented ML as part of a delegation to PKU and Fudan in March 2015; Aprl and November 2016. She has hosted a number of international researchers and Heads at Exeter from China and elsewhere.                                         

Emma's research network: Debate and Game Culture: Poetic Engagement in Europe (1350-1550) gathers colleagues from the UK as well as from the States (Florida; Illinois; Montana; Oregon; Rhode Island; South Carolina; Tennessee; Washington; Wisconsin); France (Toulouse); Switzerland (Lausanne); and Belgium (Louvain-la-Neuve). These international collaborations have already led to an edited book of essays by leading international scholars: Chartier in Europe, with Ashby Kinch of the University of Montana, US, published in S Kay’s Gallica series at Boydell and Brewer, 2008, and invitations to write chapters for a Companion to Machaut, and co-edit a Companion to Alain Chartier (both with Brill).

In addition, Emma is or was part of further International research groupings including: