Results for: Human Rights and Humanitarianism in the Modern World

KNOW 40207: Human Rights and Humanitarianism in the Modern World

  • Course Level: Graduate
  • Department: Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science
  • Year: 2019-20
  • Term: Winter
  • Thursday 2pm-4:50pm
  • CHSS 40207
  • Yan Slobodkin

The related concepts of human rights and humanitarianism form the basis of contemporary ethical and political thought. Acting in the name of “humanity” is seen as unequivocally noble, and very few of us would ever claim to be anti-humanitarian or anti-human rights. Yet the moral consensus surrounding these terms obscures a contested and often disturbing history. Rather than uncritically accepting a triumphalist story of the progressive victory of human rights and humanitarianism, this course will explore how these concepts were constructed over time, paying special attention to how they were used in practice, what kind of rhetorical work they accomplished, and whose interests they served. 
The course will consider the origins of modern concepts of humanity, rights, citizenship, and social responsibility during the enlightenment and trace how they developed over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. We will study the role of human rights and humanitarianism in the transformative events and processes of modern history, including the rise of nation-states, the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its abolition, imperial expansion and decolonization, the world wars, and twentieth-century genocides. Students will leave the course with an understanding of how human rights and humanitarianism can be applied to their own research interests.