Professor Karen O'Brien

Head of the Humanities Division

Member of the Oxford Martin School Management Committee

Professor O'Brien joined Oxford University as Head of Humanities Division in September 2016. Before taking on this role, Professor O’Brien was Vice Principal (Education) and Professor of English Literature at King’s College, London. At King’s she oversaw institutional strategy for all undergraduate and postgraduate students, the university Maths school, admissions and widening access, and the financing and implementation of student-facing capital projects. She implemented major changes in the areas of online degrees and digital learning, new classroom and clinical teaching spaces, careers and co-curricular learning.

Prior to this, she was Pro-Vice Chancellor at Birmingham University and held academic posts at Warwick, Cardiff and Southampton Universities. Originally educated at Oxford, she held a Harkness fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania and a research fellowship at Peterhouse, Cambridge where she is now an Honorary Fellow. She is a trustee of the Rhodes Trust, a trustee of Chawton House, a member of Princeton University Press’s European advisory board and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

In addition to being Head of the Humanities Division, she is a professor in the Faculty of English at the University of Oxford. Her research focuses on the Enlightenment and eighteenth-century literature, particularly the historical writing and fiction of the period.