Emily Thornbury

Emily Thornbury's picture
Associate Professor of English

Emily V. Thornbury is a scholar of Old English and Anglo-Latin literature, with a particular interest in early theories of aesthetics. She joins the English department from the University of California at Berkeley. Her first book, Becoming a Poet in Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge UP, 2014) explored how and why people set about composing verse in England prior to the Norman Conquest. Whether in English or Latin, this poetry was enmeshed in the social circumstances in which it was composed, and reveals the ways that communities—or their absence—continually shaped and reshaped poets’ ideas of form and their expectations for what their art could achieve. Presently, Thornbury is completing a book called The Virtue of Ornament, which traces the nonclassical, largely untheorized aesthetic principles of early medieval English art and literature through a series of productive encounters with Classical forms. Ornament—understood in Classical aesthetics mainly as an extraneous overlay or elaboration, but in early medieval England as a transformative act—provides an entryway into a world of thought in which surface and depth, proportion, symmetry, and value itself had very different meanings. By understanding how ornament worked in the early Middle Ages, we can glimpse alternative ways of reading, seeing, and understanding art.

Selected Publications


Becoming a Poet in Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

Edited collections with Rebecca Stephenson, Latinity and Identity in Anglo-Saxon England (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016).

Articles and essays

  • ‘Curtius and Jung: Commonplaces, Archetypes, and Literature’s Collective Unconscious,’ in Thinking of the Medieval: Midcentury Intellectuals and the Middle Ages, ed. R.D. Perry and Benjamin A. Saltzman. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2022. Pp. 131–46.
  • ‘Reading for the Ornament: Repetition and Structure in the Old English Exodus,’ in The Practice and Politics of Reading, 650–1500, ed. Daniel Donoghue, James Simpson, Nicholas Watson and Anna Wilson. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2022. Pp. 42–62.
  • ‘Finding The Dream of the Rood in Old English Literature,’ in Studying English Literature in Context: Critical Readings, ed. Paul Poplawski. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022. Pp. 11–26.
  • ‘A Taste for the Law: The Preface to Alfred’s Law Code and Hannah Arendt’s Reading of Kant,’ in Textual Identities in Early Medieval England: Essays in Honour of Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, ed. Jacqueline Fay, Rebecca Stephenson and Renée R. Trilling. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2022. Pp. 135–49.
  • ‘Form versus Catastrophe in the Old English Christ III,’ Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 52:1 (2022): 17–40. Special issue on catastrophe, edited by Shannon Gayk and Evelyn Reynolds.
  • ‘Boniface as Poet and Teacher.’ In A Companion to Boniface, ed. Michel Aaij and Shannon Godlove. Leiden: Brill, 2020. Pp. 99–122.
  • ‘Ornaments to Dazzle the Ear: Hypermetric Verses in The Dream of the Rood and Judith.’ Poetica 93–94 (2020): 83–96. Special issue edited by Michiko Ogura and Jane Roberts.
  • ‘Light Verse in Anglo-Saxon England.’ In The Shapes of Early English Poetry: Style, Form, History, ed. Irina Dumitrescu and Eric Weiskott. Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Culture 64. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2019. Pp. 85–106.