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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


Dr Emma Claussen

Dr Emma Claussen
Trinity College Assistant Professor
Affiliated Lecturer
Faculty of Modern & Medieval Languages & Linguistics
Contact details: 

Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics
Raised Faculty Building
University of Cambridge
Sidgwick Avenue
United Kingdom


Emma did her undergraduate degree at Worcester College, Oxford and an MA at KCL, before returning to Oxford for a D.Phil in French at St John’s. She then held a Career Development Fellowship at New College, Oxford (2016-19), before coming to Cambridge as a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow (2019-23), during which time she was also a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University. She joined Trinity College in 2023.

Teaching interests: 

Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature; twentieth-century literature; theatre; translation; critical theory

Research interests: 

Early modern French literature and thought; political language and politics; theatre; critical theory; intellectual history and the history of science; humanism (early modern and modern); Edward W. Said

Recent research projects: 

Emma works at the intersection of literary criticism and the history of ideas. Her first book is Politics and Politiques in Sixteenth-Century France: A Conceptual History (Cambridge, 2021). It examines uses of the word ‘politique’ and changing conceptions of politics during the Wars of Religion (1562-98). Read more about this work here.

Emma’s recent article about ‘political homelessness’ in the sixteenth century, using Montaigne as a case study, was named runner up in both the Forum Prize (2021) and the Malcolm Bowie Prize (2022). 

Good and bad politics were (and are) often framed in terms of good and bad lives. Emma is now working on representations of life and living in France, especially where natural-physical accounts of ‘being alive’ are implicated in moral and narrative accounts of ‘a life’. Her current book project, Surviving the Renaissance explores this topic in French literature between c. 1550-1650. This work focuses on live as survival in difficult circumstances: in war, illness, old age, unrequited love, etc. In other words, it considers the ‘bad life’ that is the foil to the good. Emma’s article on the politics of negatively framed life received the Richard Parish Prize in 2023.

To hear Emma speak on the CRASSH ‘Thoughtlines’ Podcast about the ‘languishing life’ of early modernity, and its resonance in the present, listen here:

This project has led to the development of a second project, provisionally entitled ‘Qualities of Life in Pre-Modernity’, analyzing how writers, thinkers, and scientists conceived of life and its qualities in a broader time period (c.1500-1800), and asking how well-being was understood before the rise of social science.

Overall, Emma is interested in how pre-modern ideas connect with modern and contemporary ones. This is not only part of her work on life, survival, and the good life, but also part of a connected project on how twentieth-century humanism was conceived with and against the pre-modern, especially in the work of Edward W. Said, whose archive she researched as Edward. W. Said Fellow at Columbia University in Spring 2023.

Emma has been involved in many collaborative projects, including ‘Renaissance Conservations’ (with Simon Park, Oxford) and ‘Early Modern Keywords’ (run by Ita Mac Carthy and Richard Scholar, both at Durham). From 2016-19 she was a co-organiser of ‘FribOx’, a network between the universities of Oxford and Fribourg. More recently she worked with Luca Zenobi (Cambridge) on a project on on ‘Fiction and Disinformation in Early Modern Europe, which was published as a Supplement of Past and Present in 2022, and on ‘writing life’ in pre-modern English and French texts with Emily Kate Price (Cambridge).

Published works: 

1. Books 
(in progress): Surviving the Renaissance: Life and Living in Early Modern France

Politics and Politiques in Sixteenth-Century France: A Conceptual History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021)

2. Peer-Reviewed Articles    

with Luca Zenobi, ‘Introduction’, in Beyond Truth: Fiction and (Dis)information in Early Modern Europe, ed. by Emma Claussen and Luca Zenobi [=Past and Present Supplement] Past & Present, 257 (2022), 1–35

 ‘“Est-ce vivre?” The Politics of Living in Montaigne and La Boétie’, Early Modern French Studies, 44.1 (2022)
Available on open access:


 ‘“Peu de vigueur et point d’art”: Les Vies (Non)-Vertueuses de II,11, “De la cruauté”, Bulletin de la Société des amis de Montaigne, 74 (2022), 167-85


‘Montaigne’s Vagabond Styles: Political Homelessness in the Sixteenth Century’, Forum for Modern Language Studies, 57.3 (2021), 273-90


 ‘What Remains: Athalie’s Futures’, French Studies, 74.3 (2020), 349-56.


‘Intraduisible, ou traduction infidèle? Le mot ‘politique’, 1560-1600’, Littératures classiques, 96 (2018/2), 27-39


‘“Vilain et déshonnête”: Villainy in anti-Politique polemic at the end of the French Wars of Religion’, in ‘Vile Beings’, ed. by Jonathan Patterson and Emilia Wilton-Godberfforde, Early Modern French Studies, 39. 2 (2017), 157-168


‘A Sixteenth-Century Modern? Ancients and Moderns in Loys Le Roy’s De la Vicissitude’, Early Modern French Studies, 37.2 (2015), 76-92

3. Edited Journal 

Beyond Truth: Fiction and (Dis)information in Early Modern Europe, ed. by Emma Claussen and Luca Zenobi, [= Past and Present Supplement] Past & Present, 257 (2022)