History in the Making

Some might say Professor of History Bruce O’Brien is stuck in the Middle Ages – he might thank you for the compliment in Old English.

O’Brien is leading an international collaborative effort called the Early English Laws Project, which aims to re-edit and translate all 150 of the early English laws issued between 600 to 1225 and make them accessible to the public through an online database.

In light of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the project takes a new resonance.

“This will make early law codes accessible to anyone,” he said, noting that laws like the Magna Carta have influenced some of the most important legal documents in history, including the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

O’Brien is the academic lead of the project, a collaboration between the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London and the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London.

The initial launch of the project in January marked the culmination of three years of work for O’Brien and his team. About half of the texts are completely done, including commentaries, introductions, translation and images of all of the earliest  manuscript folios.

O’Brien, who also is a visiting fellow at the Institute for Historical Research, has given talks on the project at Cambridge, London, York, St. Andrews, Cardiff, and Bangor in Wales, as well as in the United States.  He spoke most recently at a conference in Copenhagen in September to discuss some of his recent discoveries for the international project.

National Public Radio recently featured O’Brien in its food blog “The Salt” and in a radio segment on WAMU 88.5 “Virginia Scholar Opens Magna Carta to Study.”

About Brynn Boyer

Brynn Boyer is assistant director of media and public relations and a 2010 graduate of UMW.

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