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HIST414 - HUMAN RIGHTS AND HISTORY
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VAN PELT LIBRARY 627
The idea of universal, inalienable rights--once dismissed by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham as "nonsense upon stilts"--has become the dominant moral language of our time, the self-evident truth par excellence of our age. Human rights have become a source of inspiration to oppressed individuals and groups across the world, the rallying cry for a global civil society, and not least, a controversial source of legitimation for American foreign policy. This seminar asks: how did all this come to be? We will investigate human rights not only as theories embodied in texts, but as practices embedded in specific historical contexts. Are human rights the product of a peculiarly European heritage, of the Enlightenment and protestantism? How did Americans reconcile inalienable rights with the reality of slavery? Did human rights serve as a "civilizing" mask for colonialism? Can universal rights be reconciled with genuine cultural diversity? Through case studies and close readings, the seminar will work toward a genealogy of human rights.
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