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Professor Emma Cayley

Associate Professor of Medieval French


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Emma Cayley is Associate Professor of Medieval French at the University of Exeter where she has taught since 2003, with promotion to Senior Lecturer in 2006, and to Associate Professor in 2014. She was Laming Junior Research Fellow at the Queen’s College, Oxford (2002-3). She has a BA (French and Latin), an MSt, and an MA from Merton College; and a DPhil from St Anne’s College, Oxford (2003).

Emma has published extensively on late medieval French poetry and its material context. Her first monograph on Alain Chartier and medieval debate poetry (Debate and Dialogue: Alain Chartier in his Cultural Context) came out with OUP in 2006. She published a collection of essays on Alain Chartier with Ashby Kinch in 2008 (Chartier in Europe, Gallica: Boydell), a collection co-edited with Susan Powell in 2013 (Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe 1350-1500: Packaging, Presentation and Consumption, University of Liverpool Press), and a co-edited Companion to Alain Chartier c. 1385-1430: Father of French Eloquence for Brill in 2015 with Daisy Delogu and Joan E. McRae. Among other current projects, Emma is writing a monograph on debate for UPF and preparing critical editions of fifteenth-century debate poetry for Arizona's MRTS and Garnier. Emma was awarded a Project Fund grant by REACT to develop an App with Antenna International. See 'The Exeter Manuscripts Project' at You can see an interview about the project with Emma and her PhD student Peter Knowles at the 2013 AHRC Creative Economy Showcase: The App will be built across Exeter, Stanford, and Glasgow Universities with co-directors Prof Elaine Treharne, Dr Benjamin Albritton, and Dr Johanna Green.

Emma was appointed as series editor of 'Material Culture and the Medieval World', at I. B. Tauris (2017-). She is co-editor of French Studies, the leading subject journal (2016-). She is also on the French editorial team of MLO (Modern Languages Open), a peer-reviewed online journal hosted by Liverpool University Press. She was elected President of the British Branch of the International Courtly Literature Society ([ICLS] 2017-), and is Vice-President of the International Executive Committee. She served on the AHRC Peer Review College from 2007-14. Emma is an external examiner for French programmes at the Universities of Leeds, Cambridge, and King's College, London. Emma regularly reviews articles, proposals and manuscripts for a number of subject journals and publishers.

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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 supervision

Postgraduate Supervision (since 2001)

  • PhD French, 'Didactic Thinking and Practice in Anglo-Norman 'Para-Literature', Edward Mills. Second supervisor (Oct 2016-).
  • PhD Modern Languages, 'Conceptualizing Nature', Russ Sanchez. Second supervisor (Jan 2015-), Marie Curie CIG funded studentship.
  • PhD French, 'Connecting the Medieval to the Modern: Gaming and Social Networking in Medieval France and England,' Peter Knowles, First Supervisor from Oct 2012 (CDA with Antenna International, London).
  • PhD Medieval Studies, 'A critical edition and commentary on John Trevisa’s Gospel of Nicodemus’, Philip Wallinder, Co-supervisor from Oct 2010.
  • PhD Medieval and Film Studies, ‘Re-creation and Representation: The Middle Ages on Film', Andy Elliott, Co-supervisor from May 2007. Funded by Exeter. Andrew Elliott has since secured a full-time academic post at the University of Lincoln, and has published his thesis as a monograph with Macfarland (Remaking the Middle Ages: The Methods of Cinema and History in Portraying the Medieval World).
  • PhD Medieval Studies, ‘The Symbolism of the Tomb in Medieval Literature and Culture', Naomi Howell, Co-supervisor from October 2006. Funded by AHRC.
  • MPhil French, ‘Historical and Biblical Models in Chrétien de Troyes' Romances', Andrew Clark, Co-supervisor from Jan 2004. First supervisor from Oct 2004. MPhil awarded December 2005.

Internal examiner for PhDs:

Antonella Liuzzo-Scorpo, ‘The Idea of Friendship in the literary, historical and legal works of Alfonso X of Castile [1252-84]’, June 2009. Antonella is now lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Lincoln.

Tamsyn Rose-Steel, ‘Citation and Allusion in the Fourteenth-Century Motet’, July 2011. Tamsyn is currently a CLIR Fellow at Johns Hopkins University, US.

Damien Gaucher, 'The acquisition of French by native speakers of English: the case of the form and function of the sequence aux (PRES) + past participle in oral production', October 2013. Damien is now a Lecturer in French at Exeter.


External impact and engagement

From 2012-2013, Emma was awarded a Project Fund grant from the AHRC's knowledge exchange hub: REACT, and grants from Exeter's Open Innovation fund and from HEIF (totalling £37,250) to pursue links with creative economy partner, Antenna International. Emma worked on a project in collaboration with Antenna to create an iPad App prototype and is now in the process of building a full app. The app aimed to introduce school age pupils and other audiences to the world of medieval manuscripts. Initial funding enabled us to build a prototype based around Exeter Cathedral’s famous Exeter Book (c. 970) which contains the world’s largest collection of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) poetry, and features the Exeter Riddles: a collection of ninety-six literary enigmas. A scholarly web app is also in development in partnership with Elaine Treharne and Benjamin Albritton (Stanford), and Johanna Green (Glasgow), benefiting from the resources of Exeter's Digital Humanities facility.

Recently, Emma was a Text Technologies Fellow at Stanford in May 2016 where she worked on the development of the app project.

With the REACT-HEIF grant, Emma set up and ran three study days in October 2012 about the Exeter Manuscripts Project in local schools (ISCA College of Media Arts; St Sidwell’s CofE Primary School, and Exeter College, with pupils from years 6-13; and a further day in May 2014 at St Christopher's, Totnes), with Sara Hurley, Story Worker and Community Artist, and Cara Patterson, Visual Artist and Illustrator, both hired through Daisi (Devon Art in Schools Initiative). Pupils helped to design the App, and composed and illustrated riddles inspired by the Exeter Book, which formed part of an exhibition Emma jointly curated in Exeter Cathedral from 23rd October-4th November 2012, ‘From Medieval Manuscripts to Calligraffiti: Discovering Exeter’s Written Heritage’. 

The project excited considerable local, national, and international interest, including from the media. Emma was interviewed on ITV West Country Tonight at 6pm on 5/11/12, and gave a radio interview on BBC Radio Devon on 1/11/12. Further articles appeared in the course of 2013-14. See and

This impact work formed an integral part of one of ML's REF 2014 impact case studies. Since then, Emma has participated in a number of public workshops, and research activities, on the Exeter Book at the Cathedral, and elsewhere, and was involved in high-profile national media attention in June 2016 as a result of the UNESCO UK memory of the world status that was conferred on the Exeter Book. See

Emma won a larger grant (£30K in May 2013) from the REACT Project Fund to support development of the prototype app. In addition, Emma won a REACT Exeter Collaborative Doctoral Award in 2012, and jointly supervised PhD student Peter Knowles with Antenna International from 2012-2016. Peter successfully completed his PhD and is now a Content Designer at Antenna. 

Anyone staying at the Mercure Southgate Hotel in Exeter can currently read about the Exeter Book and Emma's project in information in each hotel room to accompany the hotel's 'Exeter Book' refurbishment in March 2015 which now includes a carpet featuring 'The Wanderer' in the restaurant and riddle 26 in the bathrooms! Emma gave a talk at the launch of the refurbishment of the hotel in May 2015.

Emma is currently working with local young people and national charities on issues relating to gender, identity and diversity, using upcycled dolls as a means of opening up discussion about these issues in schools. She has put on 'hacktivist' workshops in 2015-2017 as part of the Museum of Contemporary Commodities (Cook and Crutchlow, Geography); at the SWW DTP cluster on embodiment (Carpenter, Geography); and run workshop days at local schools and libraries: Kingsacre Primary School; Tiverton Library, and St. James' School, Exeter. She was filmed for BBC Breakfast as a result of this work in November 2016, and has since been invited to do a range of radio and newspaper/magazine articles including for the Huffington Post, and the Daily Mirror. Her work can also be seen at and Twitter @devonrescuedoll


Contribution to discipline

Emma is series editor for 'Material Culture and the Medieval World' at I. B. Tauris; co-editor of the leading subject journal French Studies, and on the French editorial team of MLO (Modern Languages Open Journal). She is Vice-President of the International Courtly Literature Society (2016-); as well as President of the British Branch of the ICLS (2017-); VP and co-founder of the International Alain Chartier Society. Emma was a member of the AHRC’s Peer Review College from 2007-2014. She served on AHRC Fellowship panel D, in May 2012. She has undertaken review and externalling work (most recently for Liverpool), and is currently external examiner for the BA French progamme at the Universities of Leeds, KCL, and Cambridge.

Emma is a member of several national and international subject associations: AUPHF (Association of University Professors and Heads of French); the ICLS (International Courtly Literature Society - she served for 9 years as International Secretary), EBS (Early Book Society), Fifteenth-Century Studies, SFS (Society for French Studies), SMMLL (Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature), the International Christine de Pizan Society, the International Machaut Society, and the International Alain Chartier Society. Emma reviews papers/manuscripts for the MHRA critical texts series, and Oxford University Press, as well as French Studies, MLO, Renaissance Studies and Medium Aevum and contributes book reviews to a variety of journals (eg. Speculum, Encomia, French Studies, Medium Aevum).


Emma has been involved in a broad range of media activity relating both to the Exeter Book app project, and to her work with local young people on gender, diversity, and identity, upcycling dolls.

Recently she appeared on BBC Breakfast (7th November 2016) to talk about her doll project, and regularly provides opinions on local radio on topics that have ranged from Emma Watson's Vanity Fair cover, curvy Barbies, and Dr Who's latest regeneration.


Emma has a BA Hons in French and Latin (first class), an MSt in European Literature (medieval French) with distinction, and an MA from Merton College, Oxford. Her DPhil (St. Anne's College, Oxford), sponsored by the Oxford Paget-Toynbee Olwyn-Rees PhD studentship, focused on the fifteenth-century French poet Alain Chartier and French debate poetry. From 2002-3 she held the post of Laming Junior Research Fellow at the Queen's College, Oxford.

Emma was appointed Lecturer in French at Exeter in 2003, Senior Lecturer in 2006, and Associate Professor of Medieval French in 2014. She was Head of Modern Languages from July 2011-August 2016, and currently looks after Internationalisation for the Department.