Participant Info

First Name
Last Name
University of Sydney
Website URL
Petitioning, socio-legal history, First Nations history, women history, early modern history,
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Personal Info

About Me

Karen’s research explores socio-legal concerns in varying geo-political and temporal contexts. It  draws on a range of theoretical and methodological approaches.  Her research examines manuscripts and legal records from a variety of legal institutions such as courts, quarter sessions and assizes and takes into account such legal sources as testimony and petitions in people’s attempts to achieve justice.

Recent Publications

O’Brien, K., Petitioning for Land: The Petitions of First Peoples of Modern British Colonies, (Bloomsbury, London 2018)

The extent of First Peoples political participation through the medieval act of petitioning is currently unknown. This book constitutes an an interpretation of petitions as a continuous form of political articulation and not as a failure to overturn colonialism. It considers petitioning for recognition of prior land ownership as a means by which to locate First Peoples petitioning for change within the broader narrative of historical and contemporary notions of justice. It follows the story of First Peoples’ activism and shows how they actively reform discourse to disseminate a self-determined reality through the act of petitioning.

  • O’Brien, K. (2017). Social Cohesion and Resilience in First Australian Family and Kinship Networks. Journal of Family History, 42(4), 440-451.
  • O’Brien, K. (2016). Intimate Worlds: Kinship Relations and Emotional Investment among Nantwich Women 1603-1685. Journal of Family History, 41(2), 131-143.


  • O’Brien, K. (2016). Sexual impropriety, petitioning and the dynamics of ill will in daily urban life. Urban History, 43(2), 177-199.
  • O’Brien, K. (2014). Book Review: J. Walvin, The Zong: A Massacre, the Law and the End of Slavery, Yale University Press, 2011, ISSN: 1292-8968. Revue Francaise de civilisation britannique – Cercles [French Journal of British Studies].
  • O’Brien, K. (2014). Boots, Blankets and Bomb Tests: First Australian Petitioning and Resistance to Colonisation. Griffith Journal of Law and Human Dignity, 2(2), 357-376.


  • O’Brien, K. (2014). Companions of Heart and Hearth: Hardship and the Changing Structure of the Family in Early Modern English Townships. Journal of Family History, 39(3), 183-203.
  • O’Brien, K. (2014). Exhibition review: Forerunners of Change: Celebrating Indigenous Rights and the Aborigines Progressive Association, Hereby Make Protest Exhibition, Carriageworks, Sydney 17 June to 18 July, 2014. History Australia.
  • O’Brien, K. (2011). With my eyes, my heart and with my brain I am thinking: Testimony, Treaty and Decolonising Indigenous History from Images. Australia and New Zealand Law and History E-Journal, 1-27.
  • O’Brien, K. (2008). Academic Language, Power and the Impact of Western Knowledge Production on Indigenous Student Learning. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 37, 56-60.



Media Coverage
Country Focus
Expertise by Geography
Australia, British Isles, England, New Zealand, North America, Scandinavia, United Kingdom, United States
Expertise by Chronology
17th century, 18th century, 19th century, Early Modern, Modern, 20th century, 21st century
Expertise by Topic
Capitalism, Colonialism, Economic History, Family, Gender, Human Rights, Indigenous Peoples, Politics, Race, Urban History, Women