Kelly King-O’Brien

Senior Lecturer, Associate Director, Writing in the Majors


Kelly King-O’Brien is a Senior Lecturer and Associate Director of the Writing in the Majors program at the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines at Cornell University. As a former Assistant Director of the University of Chicago’s Writing Programs, she received her training in the Little Red Schoolhouse, a well-respected and cross-disciplinary writing curriculum. In addition to teaching writing, King-O’Brien taught American history courses at the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago. After she earned her Ph.D. in history (post-WWII U.S.) from the University of Chicago, King-O’Brien started teaching first-year writing seminars at Cornell—in history as well as one on the New Yorker—and upper-level writing classes on the contemporary news. She also teaches two cross-disciplinary teacher-training courses for graduate students who teach first-year writing seminars and serve as TAs for Writing in the Majors courses.

Although she originally received a B.A. in Neuroscience from Oberlin College, King-O’Brien eventually earned a Ph.D. in history and now teaches writing and trains people how to teach writing—showing that sometimes things work out even when you change your mind and figure out what you really want to do.

In 2019-2020 and continuing into 2020-21, King-O’Brien is a member of the CIVIC research co-lab group entitled “Unsettled Monuments, Unsettling Heritage,” which includes several other faculty members and a post-doc from multiple departments, including History, Archeology, Near Eastern Studies, Architecture, and Classics. As part of this project, King-O'Brien is researching why and how Texas installed more Confederate markers, memorials, and monuments during the Civil Rights Movement (and Civil War Centennial) than any other state, second only to Virginia. She explores the possible remedies to the controversies over monuments, by using an historical lens—investigating who decided where and when the monuments and markers would be placed, how were they funded, and what are possible remedies today when much African-American history was not preserved or was destroyed and blacks were often not part of the original decision-making process?

Her current writing projects include her research on monuments and heritage in Texas and the U.S., integrating the news or Twitter across the curriculum, and how to make writing more central in history courses.


Ph.D. dissertation, “The Trials of Interracial Advocacy: White-collar Work, Race, and Inclusion in Post-World War II Chicago,” June 2012.

“Names and Appearances are often Indeterminate:” Quandaries over Identifying Jews in Chicago, 1953-1961, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (April 2017), pages 9-58.

Protestors Aren’t Destroying History, They Are Recasting It: When monuments to racism, slavery, and empire come down, new possibilities rise up, Public Seminar, June 25, 2020.
(co-written with Durba Ghosh, History Dept, Cornell)
Republished by Eurozine:

"Reimagining Writing in History Courses," Journal of American History, Volume 107, Issue 4, March 2021, Pages 942–954,

Free link:

""Writing Back to the News”: Reading the News as a Pedagogical Strategy to Empower Students, Improve Their Critical Reading Skills, and Fight “Fake News”"
Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture
Volume 21, Number 2
(April 2021)


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