Bruce O’Brien












Bruce O’Brien
Professor Emeritus


Bruce O’Brien researches the effects of war, migration, and culture on law, language, and communication in medieval Europe, principally England, France, Britain and Ireland, and Scandinavia. He has presented on these subjects throughout the US as well as internationally, including at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Boston College, London, Manchester, York, Oxford, and Cambridge. He was one of the invited guests at C-Span’s broadcast from the National Archives of a panel on the 850th anniversary of Magna Carta. He has published numerous articles on the effects of the Scandinavian and Norman conquests on English law and government as well as on the development of translation methods in western Europe. His first book, God’s Peace and King’s Peace: The Laws of Edward the Confessor (U Penn Press, 1999), was a study of English law in the century after the Norman conquest as seen through the eyes of a forger of a law code. His second book, Reversing Babel: Translation among the English during an Age of Conquests, c. 800-c. 1200 (U Delaware Press, 2011), addressed the role of translation in the development of English law, literature, religion, trade, medicine, and science. He has co-edited two further books. The first, co-edited with Barbara Bombi, is Textus Roffensis: Law, Language, and Libraries in Early Medieval England (Brepols, 2015), and it brings together the work of seventeen scholars on one of the most important legal manuscripts produced in medieval England, the 12th-century Rochester Cathedral book known as Textus Roffensis. The most recent edited volume is Narratives on Translation across Eurasia and Africa: From Babylonia to Colonial India (Brepols, forthcoming in 2021). Co-edited with Sonja Brentjes (Berlin) and Jens Høyrup (Roskilde), it collects studies which offer a new understanding of the role of translation in cultural contact across three continents and over a period of five thousand years.

He is the Academic Lead for the AHRC-funded Early English Laws Project, which is re-editing and translating all legal texts produced in England between c. 600 and c. 1215. He is the past president of the Haskins Society, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (UK), and was a Visiting Fellow at Harvard Law School. His research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK), the Mellon Foundation; the American Philosophical Society; the Library of Congress; and Harvard Law School.

He recently taught courses at UMW ranging from introductory lectures on western civilization, upper-level courses exploring Greco-Roman and medieval culture, to seminars offering close examinations of the viking age in Britain and Ireland, the early crusades, and the importance of historical forgeries from antiquity to the present.



  • Ph.D., Yale University, 1990. History.
  • M.A., Yale University, 1984. History.
  • B.A., St. Olaf College, 1982. Creative Writing and Medieval History.
  • Manchester College Oxford, 1980-1981. Early Medieval History


FSEM 201: European History
HIST 121: Western Civilization I
HIST 297: History Colloquium
HIST 298: History Practicum
HIST 300: The British Isles from Prehistory to the Plague
HIST 331: History of Ancient Greece
HIST 332: History of Ancient Rome
HIST 341: Europe in the Middle Ages I
HIST 342: Europe in the Middle Ages II
HIST 451: History of Anglo-Saxon England
HIST 455: Forgery and History
HIST 476: Ireland and Britain during the Viking Age