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Unit information: Human Rights in History (Level H Lecture Response Unit) in 2014/15

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Unit name Human Rights in History (Level H Lecture Response Unit)
Unit code HIST30035
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Baughan
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948. Signed by all the members of the United Nations, it proclaimed the entitlements of all individuals irrespective of their race, nationality, age or gender. In this unit, we trace the intellectual origins of human rights within modern British history. In a series of thematic seminars, we ask three key questions: did the 1948 Declaration mark an historical watershed, or was it instead the product of a long process of evolution? What is the relationship between national citizenship and international rights? Were human rights used to justify British imperial expansion and intervention overseas, both in the past and the present day?

To answer these questions, we will engage with a vibrant, burgeoning literature on human rights in modern history. This will allow us to examine the role of British liberalism, American Independence and the French Revolution in the development of individual and universal rights discourses; Allied diplomats as the ‘architects’ of the United Nations; the role as human rights activists; and the extent to which imperial power was extended, or curtailed, by United Nations and European Union Human Rights Declarations. Students will deepen their analytical abilities through close readings of nineteenth and twentieth century rights declarations, detecting subtle changes in the nature and form of contemporary rights.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have developed: (1) a wide understanding of the development of Human Rights as an intellectual construct and a practical agenda for action; (2) the ability to analyse and generalise about how wider historical forces have affected both the development of Human Rights as a construct and the ways in which national and international organisations have sought to implement them; (3) the ability to select pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate more general issues and arguments; (4) the ability to derive benefit from, and contribute effectively to, large group discussion; (5) the ability to identify a particular academic interpretation, evaluate it critically, and form an individual viewpoint.

Teaching details

1 x 2-hour interactive lecture per week.

Assessment Details

One summative coursework essay of 3000 words (50%) and one unseen examination of two hours comprising 2 questions out of 8 (50%). Both elements will assess ILOs 1-3, and 5.

Reading and References

T. Buchanan, 'The Truth Will Set You Free': The Making of Amnesty International, Journal of Contemporary History 37, 4, (2002), 575-97. S. Hopgood, The Endtimes of Human Rights, (Cornell 2013) L. Hunt, Inventing Human Rights: A History, (New York 2007) M. Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations, (Princeton 2009) S. Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Boston 2010) A.W.B. Simpson, Human Rights and the End of Empire: Britain and the Genesis of the European Convention, (Oxford 2004)