Professor Emma Cayley

Professor Emma Cayley


I am Head of the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, and Professor of Medieval French at the University of Leeds where I joined in September 2019. I formerly taught at the University of Exeter (2003-2019) where I held the post of Head of Department from 2011-2016. I was Laming Junior Research Fellow at the Queen’s College, Oxford (2002-3). I have a BA (French and Latin) with first class honours, an MSt in European Literature (with distinction), and an MA from Merton College; and a DPhil from St Anne’s College, Oxford (2003).

I have published extensively on late medieval French poetry and its material context. My monograph on Alain Chartier and medieval debate poetry (Debate and Dialogue: Alain Chartier in his Cultural Context) came out with OUP in 2006. I 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. I have edited two collaborative journal issues in the Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences, ‘Global Cultural Transmission’ (Springer vol 9, issue 2, June 2016), ‘Reading across cultures: global configurations of reception, adaptation, and transmission’. (Springer vol 8, issue 2, March 2015). 

Among other current projects, I am preparing co-edited volumes for Liverpool University Press on the theme of ‘Courtly Communities’; as well as two critical editions of fifteenth-century debate poetry for Arc Humanities press, and Garnier. Collaborative research with creative industry led to a Project Fund grant by the AHRC’s REACT (Research and Enterprise in Arts and Creative Technology) to develop an tablet App with Antenna International. See 'The Exeter Manuscripts Project' at You can see an interview about the project with me and my former PhD student Peter Knowles at the AHRC Creative Economy Showcase:

The Exeter Book App was the basis for a collaborative network set up across Exeter, Stanford, and Glasgow Universities with co-directors Prof Elaine Treharne, Dr Benjamin Albritton, and Dr Johanna Green, and a Text Technologies Fellowship which I held at Stanford University in 2016. I was involved in the recent digitisation of the Exeter Book (2017). Leeds-based digital humanities projects are in development with the Centre for Immersive Technologies.

Current appointments include as Vice-Chair of the University Council of Modern Languages (External Engagement and Comms); co-editor of French Studies, the leading subject journal (2016-), and series editor of 'Material Culture and the Medieval World', at I. B. Tauris (2017-). I serve on the Exec boards of the Society for French Studies (SFS) and the Association of University Professors and Heads of French (AUPHF), and on the French editorial team of MLO (Modern Languages Open), a peer-reviewed online journal hosted by Liverpool University Press. I was elected President of the British Branch of the International Courtly Literature Society ([ICLS] 2017-), and am President of the International Executive Committee (from 2019). I served on the AHRC Peer Review College from 2007-14. I am an external examiner for French and medieval studies UG and MA programmes at the University of Bristol (formerly also Leeds, Cambridge, King’s).


  • Head of School

Research interests

I welcome enquiries about postgraduate supervision (MRes, MPhil, PhD) in all areas of medieval French literature, society and culture, 1300-1550. My 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.’

Contribution to discipline

I am Vice-Chair of the University Council of Modern Languages (External Engagement and Comms); 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). I am President of the International Courtly Literature Society (2019); as well as President of the British Branch of the ICLS (2017); VP and co-founder of the International Alain Chartier Society. I was a member of the AHRC’s Peer Review College from 2007-2014; I have also served on AHRC Fellowship panel D. I have undertaken review and externalling work in the UK and internationally, and have been or am currently external examiner for the BA French progammes at the Universities of Leeds, KCL, and Cambridge, and for the MA Medieval Studies in Bristol.

I am a member of several national and international subject associations: RSA (Royal Society of Arts); AUPHF (Association of University Professors and Heads of French); UCML (University Council of Modern Languages); the ICLS (International Courtly Literature Society - I served for 9 years as International Secretary before my appointment as Vice-President and now President), 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. I review papers/manuscripts for the MHRA critical texts series, and Oxford University Press, as well as French Studies, MLO, Renaissance Studies and Medium Aevum and contribute book reviews to a variety of journals (eg. Speculum, Encomia, French Studies, Medium Aevum). I also review grant proposals and promotional cases for a number of institutions and councils.


I have been involved in a broad range of media activity relating both to the Exeter Book app project (see for example, and to my work with local young people on gender, diversity, and identity. I have appeared on BBC Breakfast to talk about my doll upcycling project (, and regularly provide opinions on local radio on topics that have ranged from Emma Watson's Vanity Fair cover, gender, curvy Barbies, and Dr Who's latest regeneration.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • BA Honours in French and Latin (Merton College, Oxford)
  • Master of Studies in European Literature (Merton College, Oxford)
  • MA (Merton College, Oxford)
  • DPhil (St. Anne's College, Oxford)

Professional memberships

  • SFS
  • ICLS
  • RSA
  • Fifteenth-Century Studies
  • International Alain Chartier Society
  • Early Book Society
  • International Machaut Society
  • International Christine de Pizan Society
  • UCML

Student education

I have taught in a broad range of areas connected to my research interests, and in French Studies more broadly. At Leeds alongside the Head of School role I teach on the MA in Medieval Studies for the Institute of Medieval Studies, and for French and more widely within LCS.

Research groups and institutes

  • History
  • French

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>