Global History of Human Rights since 1750 – An Annotated Syllabus

Since it’s human rights day, I thought I would share my syllabus for an undergrad seminar that I’m currently teaching at the University of Erfurt on the history of human rights. I’ve added some shot explanations of the logic behind the readings chosen for each week. Feel free to comment, critique or borrow liberally!

Session 1: Human Rights and History

General overview of the course matter (it’s the first day so it’s all pretty broad)

Session 2: Genealogies of Human Rights

  • Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, “Genealogies of Human Rights,” in Human Rights in the Twentieth Century, ed. SL Hoffmann Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 1–28.

This is a dense first reading, but it provides a good sense of the scope of the field and lets students see the variety of themes we will be dealing with over the length of the course. In Germany, where seminars put an emphasis on historiography, it’s a great primer.

Session 3: 18th Century Revolutions

  • Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights, London: Norton, 2008. Chapter 3 pp. 113-145.

Hunt’s book provides an example of a teleological progress narrative of human rights beginning with the 18th century and the Enlightenment, and it introduces students to the history of emotions as a methodology.

Session 4: Unequal Revolutions (1)

  • Joan Wallach Scott. “French Feminists and the Rights of ‘Man’: Olympe de Gouges’s Declarations.” History Workshop 28 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 1-21.

I’ve got two lessons that are set up as a counter-point to progress narratives of the 18th century in order to center contemporary critics and to understand different forms of exclusion. Scott’s work delves into the exclusion of women from full citizenship and universalism and it also provides an introduction to gender theory. Continue reading