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Dr Laura O'Brien

Assistant Professor

Department: Humanities

Laura -O;Brien Dr Laura joined Northumbria in September 2015, having previously taught at University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin, Université Paris 1 (Panthéon-Sorbonne) and the University of Sunderland. She completed her PhD at University College Dublin, where she held an Irish Research Council ‘Government of Ireland’ Postgraduate Scholarship, and was a doctoral fellow at the UCD Humanities Institute. Between 2010 and 2013 Laura was an Irish Research Council/Marie Curie Actions COFUND Fellow, based at Trinity College Dublin and the Centre de recherches en histoire du XIXe siècle, Université Paris 1 (Panthéon-Sorbonne).

Campus Address

Lipman Building



Laura’s research interests are primarily focused on the cultural, social and political history of modern Europe, with a particular interest in visual culture in nineteenth and twentieth-century France.

Laura’s enduring interest in visual culture is reflected in the subject of her first book, The republican line: caricature and French republican identity, 1830-52 (Manchester University Press, 2015). This work shows how political caricature was used as a means of discussing, defining and articulating notions of republican identity during a turbulent period in modern French and European history, which coincided with a ‘golden age’ in French graphic satire.

Her current research is focused on two main projects. The first examines visual representations of Napoleon and Napoleon in popular culture, with a focus on Napoleonic performance in French theatre and film from the 1790s to the present. This research asks how the immediately recognisable figure of Napoleon was 'invented' through theatrical and cinematic performance, and how these performances reflected the socio-political contemporary contexts in which they originated. More broadly, this work marks a new departure in the study of how historical figures are portrayed and mediated.

Laura's other current work looks at the construction of memories of revolution in France between 1848 and 1948, with a focus on two key research strands: writing the history of 1848 in the nineteenth century, including the impact of exile and transnational exchanges on the formation of these contemporary historical perspectives; and a study of revolution, commemoration and decolonisation in the 1948 centenary of the revolution of 1848.

Laura is also interested in the history of Paris and in religious history, particularly the relationship between religion, society and conceptions of modernity in France and Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century. 

Laura’s interdisciplinary approach to her research underpins and informs her teaching at all levels, most notably in her final-year module on revolution, culture and urban life in nineteenth-century Paris.

Laura is also very active in the area of public engagement. In addition to leading Northumbria's contribution to the 2018 Being Human Festival, she has appeared on BBC Radio 3, BBC World News, France 24 and has contributed to The History Show on Irish national radio. She appears as the historical expert in the "Young Napoleon" episode of BBC Radio 4's You're Dead To Me podcast, a series that has now surpassed 26 million streams worldwide. She is a contributor to History TodayApollo, and the Times Literary Supplement. Laura is also interested in the use of digital and social media as tools for historians. Follow Laura on Twitter: @lrbobrien  

  • Please visit the Pure Research Information Portal for further information
  • How the Marquis de Sade became a darling of the French establishment, O'Brien, L. 10 Aug 2021
  • L’émergence de l’«acteur napoléonien» au XIXe siècle, O'Brien, L. 16 Nov 2021, In: Revue Italienne d'Etudes Francaises
  • Lives less ordinary: How a family prospered from the French Revolution, O'Brien, L. 16 Apr 2021
  • Modern history: Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris, O'Brien, L. 1 Oct 2021
  • Napoléon n’est plus? Reflections on a Bicentenary, O'Brien, L. 31 Dec 2021, In: French History
  • The celebrity horse putting Napoleon in the shade, O'Brien, L. 6 May 2021
  • The Lives of Napoleon, O'Brien, L. 1 May 2021
  • There's Something About Marie: Going beyond the clichés to reveal Marie-Antoinette as a political operator with real influence, O'Brien, L. 1 Jan 2020
  • It Can't Happen Here: A personal interpretation of France under two occupations, reissued as a Modern Classic, O'Brien, L. 8 Aug 2019
  • Old Boney: Myth-making, fake news and Napoleon, O'Brien, L. 5 Feb 2019

Harriette Moore Caricatures and Cut-Outs: Joséphine Bowes and Print Collecting at the Bowes Museum Start Date: 01/10/2020

  • History PhD December 07 2009
  • Fellow (FHEA) Higher Education Academy (HEA) 2015


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