Human Rights Program core courses

HR 101 Introduction to Human Rights

An intensive introduction to contemporary discussions of human rights in a broad context. The course mixes a basic historical and theoretical investigation of these contested categories, ‘human’ and ‘rights,’ with some difficult examples of the political, social, cultural, and aesthetic dimensions of claims made in these terms. What are humans and what count as rights, if any? We will ask about the foundations of rights claims; about legal, political, non-violent and violent ways of advancing, defending and enforcing them; about the documents and institutions of the human rights movement; and about the questionable ‘reality’ of human rights in our world. Is there such a thing as ‘our’ world? The answers are not obvious. We will try to find them by exploring, among other things, the French and American revolutions, the ‘decline of the nation-state’ (Arendt), humanitarian intervention (medical and military), public space and democracy, testimony and information (from Shoah to the CNN effect), war crimes and the concept of the civilian, and the challenges to human rights orthodoxy posed by terrorism and the wars against it. Using The Face of Human Rights (Walter Kalin) as our primary text, along with work in philosophy, history, literature, politics, and with the contemporary news flow, we will examine some tricky cases and troubled places, among them our own.

HR 120 Human Rights Law and Practice

An intensive introduction to human rights law and practice. The course combines an inquiry into the historical and theoretical underpinnings of human rights with case studies that introduce the issues, actors, institutions and laws that constitute the contemporary practice of human rights. In the last decades, human rights has come to occupy a powerful space in international law, political rhetoric, activism and the news cycle. Where did that come from? When and why did it come about? What other options did it displace? In trying to find the answers, we will explore the writing of historians, theorists and practitioners, with special attention to the disagreements and tensions among them that help to elucidate the range of possibilities. The case studies will give us the opportunity to see how the issues play out, and where we situate ourselves in the process. Finally, we will learn a little bit of law, but we will do it in the context of people struggling – typically, against, states – to assert and extend their rights.

HR 105 Human Rights Advocacy: Scholars at Risk

An introduction to human rights advocacy, with a practical component. Half of the course focuses on the history and theory of human rights advocacy: what is it to make claims for human rights, or to denounce their violation, especially on behalf of others?  How and when and why have individuals and groups spoken out, mounted campaigns, published reports and exposés?  How do they address, challenge, and sometimes work with governments and international organizations like the United Nations? We will look at human rights advocacy from the campaign to abolish the slave trade to the founding of Amnesty International. How has the human rights movement come to be defined by transnational advocacy networks – and how do they in turn define what human rights are?  This half of the course serves as an introduction to human rights work as a mode of legal and political practice. The other half of the course involves hands-on work with the human rights organization Scholars at Risk on the case of a detained Uyghur scholar in China. We will  research her case, communicate with the family and other advocates, write country and case profiles, propose strategies and tactics for pressuring governments and other powerful actors, and develop appeals to public opinion  — all while recognizing the ethical and political risks this work may involve. Readings include texts by  Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, Adam Hochschild, Stephen Hopgood, Judith Butler, Stanley Cohen, Ben Mauk, and others, including an intensive introduction to the politics of Xinjiang and the Uyghur community. Taught in conjunction with parallel seminars at Bard College Berlin and the American University of Central Asia. Information about Scholars at Risk can be found at

HR 189 Human Rights Meets Civil Rights

For much of the 20th century, Civil Rights activists and Human Rights advocates worked hand-in-hand. Their shared target: state actors and global systems that exploited human bodies and denied human dignity in the name of prejudice, nationalism and profit. Yet in the 1960s, a new wave of social movements representing Black, Feminist, LGBTQ, Chicano, Indigenous and Disabled perspectives shattered this consensus, demanding an identity-based approach to civil rights advocacy and pushing against notions of universal human rights. This seminar will introduce students to the history of this conflict, and allow them to explore for themselves the benefits and/or costs of advocating for social justice through the figure of “the human” or through the filter of identity. Students will be introduced to the foundational writings of identity-based movement leaders, with an eye for their applicability to contemporary struggles over immigration, anti-trans violence, mass incarceration and police violence. We will consider the relative efficacy of direct action, lawsuits, media campaigns and civil disobedience.

HR / PS 134 Constitutional Law

This course will provide an introduction to constitutional theory and the evolution of constitutional law in the United States  The course begins with a look at the history and theory of constitutionalism with a particular focus on the writing of Aristotle, Montesquieu and Arendt.  We then explore the advent of written constitutions in the United States and the Federal Constitution, before diving into developments in US Constitutional law from the founding through the New Deal.  Finally, we will explore some key issues in emerging constitutional law that wrestle with core concepts of constitutionalism, including voting rights, campaign finance and the administrative state.  The course confronts the role of a constitution in the state and the particular challenges of a written constitution enforced by courts.  In addition to theoretical and historical materials, the course will include substantial case law readings as well as legal writing by contemporary scholars.

PS 207 Global Citizenship

What does it mean to be a global citizen? This question has gained increasing salience as the world has become more globalized. With globalization new problems surface that cut across national borders and fall outside the jurisdiction of individual nation-states. In response new forms of political organization have emerged to address these problems, which challenge the state as the primary locus of political authority and ultimate source of individual rights. In particular, these individuals and groups have appealed to a kind of global citizenship from below to call for action on and demand redress for the harms created by globalization. This interdisciplinary course critically examines the conceptual and theoretical foundations of the concept of global citizenship and investigates how the idea might work in practice. We begin by considering the conceptual, philosophical and historical debates about citizenship. What does it mean to be a citizen of a particular state? What obligations and responsibilities accompany citizenship? How have understandings of citizenship changed and expanded over time? What is global citizenship and how does it differ from national citizenship? Next we evaluate these ideas about citizenship in the context of globalization and the new problems created by an increasingly interdependent world. Topics covered may include: migration and refugees; the environment and resources; (in)security and borders; health and infectious disease; and development and inequality. We conclude by assessing the role (if any) global citizenship can play in global governance and consider how the international system might be transformed to better address the challenges of globalization. This course will be taught concurrently at Bard’s international partner institutions. Students will benefit from collaboration with peers at these institutions.

 HR 263 A Lexicon of Migration

Migration is one of the most important and contested features of today’s interconnected world. In one way or another, it has transformed most if not all contemporary nation-states into “pluralist,” “post-migrant,” and/or “super-diverse” polities. And it affects everyone—regardless of their own migratory status. This course examines the history of migration from local, national, and global perspectives, with particular emphasis on the uneven economic and geopolitical developments that have produced specific forms of mobility into and through the U.S. The course also traces the emergence of new modes of border regulation and migration governance as well as novel forms of migrant cultural production and representation. Above all, it aims to provide students with the tools to engage critically with many of the concepts and buzzwords—among them “asylum,” “border,” “belonging,” “citizenship,” and “illegality”—that define contemporary public debates. A Lexicon of Migration is a Bard/HESP (Higher Education Support Program) network course that will collaborate with similar courses at Bard College Berlin, Al-Quds Bard, and the American University of Central Asia.

HR 214 A History of International Human Rights Law

Is there a relationship between the rise of capitalism as a simultaneously globalizing/localizing force and the emergence of international human rights law? Are there intersections in the histories of the nation-state, humanitarian law, and international human rights law? These are some of the questions animating this course, which aims to question the characterization of international human rights law as the evolution of human civilisation and humanitarian sensibility. Legal declarations, treaties, conventions, agreements, and the writings of selected jurists and political philosophers from the early modern period onward will be examined in light of the particular historical circumstances they were responding to in order to reach a non-teleological understanding of the contemporary international human rights legal framework.

HR 215 History of Human Rights

International human rights is both young and old. The core ideas stretch back at least as far as the Enlightenment, but the founders of the modern movement are just reaching retirement.   And while it is increasingly well established in international law, politics and the activities of nongovernmental organizations, there is still considerable debate over what human rights is and what it is intended to achieve: Is it a movement, an ideology or a set of laws? And is its purpose to pressure repressive countries, to provide a constitution for the world, or, more nefariously, to facilitate economic globalization? In the last decade, through books ranging from autobiographies to angry polemics, the debate has emerged in competing views about what constitutes the history of human rights. While telling the story of human rights, these histories also expose the tension and controversy that underlie the movement, itself. Readings will include founding figures of the modern movement like Louis Henkin and AryehNeier,, distinguished journalists like Adam Hochschild and historians Lynn Hunt, Samuel Moyn, Carol Anderson, Elizabeth Borgwardt, Ken Cmiel and more.

HR 226 Women’s Rights, Human Rights

This course provides students with a broad overview of women’s struggles for liberation from the global patterns of masculine domination. Following a brief overview of first wave feminism, the bulk of the course engages students with second wave feminism—including, the critical appropriations and contestations of marxism, structuralism & psychoanalysis characteristic of post ’68 feminist theory—post-structuralist theories of sexual difference, écriture féminine, 70s debates surrounding the NOW & ERA movements, and turning at the end of the course to the issues of race & class at the center of third wave feminism. While serving as a survey of the major developments in feminist theoretical discourse, the course is framed from a global human rights perspective, always mindful of issues ranging from suffrage, property rights & Equal Pay, to forced marriage, reproductive rights & maternal mortality, female genital mutilation, sex-trafficking, & prostitution, to coeducation, Lesbian, & Transgender rights. Readings may include texts ranging from Wollstonecraft, Stopes & Fuller, to Beauvoir, Friedan, Solanas, Koedt, Dworkin, Duggan, MacKinnon, & Allison (the “Feminist Sex Wars”), to Rubin, Wittig, De Lauretis, Traub, Irigaray, Kristeva, Cixous, Butler, Walker, Baumgardner, Richards, Moraga, Andalzùa, et al.

HR / PS 231 Humanitarian Military Intervention

When should states use military force to alleviate human suffering?  Does the need to intervene to stop human rights violations outweigh the right of states to maintain control over territory? The international states system is built upon the principles of sovereignty and nonintervention. Yet over the past two decades human rights have emerged as an increasingly accepted justification legitimizing the use of force.  This apparent tension between the respect for state sovereignty and the inevitable violations that result from the use of military force for humanitarian purposes is at the center of the debate over human rights in the field of international relations. This course explores the dilemmas and controversies surrounding the use of force for humanitarian purposes. The first part examines the major ethical, political and strategic arguments for and against humanitarian military intervention. The second part focuses on specific instances where states undertook, or failed to undertake, a humanitarian military intervention (for example, Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Sudan, Libya and Syria, among others). Through an examination of particular case studies, we will better understand why the international community has such an inconsistent record of stopping humanitarian crises and what the limitations and possibilities of human rights are in international politics.

HR 234   (Un)Defining the Human

At least since Aristotle, philosophers have sought to delineate the contours of the human, to define what it means to be a specifically human being. To define what it means to be human is at once to exclude those modes of being deemed to be not human—a process of exclusion that produces various categories of otherness as non-human, or even inhuman: thing, animal, savage, slave, other, foreigner, stranger, cyborg, alien. In this course, students engage with a range of theoretical discussions that attempt to situate the human being vis-à-vis its varying “others.” Readings—drawn from a range of periods and discourses—may include: classical (Aristotelian) conceptions of the human, 17th- & 18th-century theories of “human nature” (e.g., Hobbes, Larochefoucauld, Mandeville, La MettrieCondillac, Rousseau, Herder, Kant, Schiller), 19th Century Materialist & Social Darwinist thought (e.g., Marx, Nietzsche, Darwin, Spencer) and more contemporary discussions in the fields of cognitive science, socio-biology, philosophical biology, phenomenology, ontology, theology, discourse analysis, Post-Structuralism, Post-Humanism and OOO (e.g., Bergson, BatailleTeilhard, Heidegger, Merleau-PontySchelerUexküll, Lorenz, Wilson, Dawkins, Gould, PlessnerGehlenScheler, Elias, Cassirer, Fromm, LyotardDeleuze, Ansell-Pearson, Derrida, AgambenLingisBeniger, Nagel, Janicaud, Morton, Bennet, Harman, Ingold.

HR 267 Human Rights and Decolonization

The “period of decolonization”—the decades after World War II, in which many former colonies achieved their independence from European colonial powers—coincides with the rise of the contemporary regime of human rights. This course asks how this shared history shaped the development of both human rights and decolonization, and what this means for the way these two concepts function today. It ranges from historical events such as the 1955 Bandung Conference, which brought together decolonial thinkers from across Africa and Asia, to contemporary movements such as Rhodes Must Fall. We will ask: is human rights an adequate or sufficient framework for approaching the demands of decolonization? Can human rights function at a collective or national (rather than just an individual) level? In what ways have human rights been mobilized to resist or support decolonization efforts? How do projects of cultural decolonization relate to human rights discourses? To what extent is decolonization a project aimed at developing a “new humanism”—and if so, how does this change what we take human rights to mean? And can human rights as a framework make room for the economic and cultural demands of decolonization? We will read widely in anti-colonial and decolonial thought and literature, as well as contemporary debates about the relationship of human rights to decolonization, with possible authors including Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, Sylvia Wynter, René Ménil, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Dambudzo Marechera, Josué de Castro, Samuel Moyn, and others.

PS 167 Foundations of Law: The Quest for Justice

Corporate executives hire high-priced lawyers to flout the law with impunity. Indigent defendants are falsely convicted, and even executed for crimes they did not commit. We say that law is the institutional embodiment of justice. And yet, it is equally true that law, as it is practiced, seems to have little connection to justice. As the novelist William Gaddis writes: “Justice? You get justice in the next world. In this world, you have the law.” This course explores the apparent disconnect between law and justice. Can contemporary legal systems offer justice? Can we, today, still speak of a duty to obey the law? Is it possible for law to do justice? Through readings of legal cases as well as political, literary, and philosophical texts, we seek to understand the problem of administering justice as it emerges in the context of contemporary legal institutions. Texts will include Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of a Metaphysic of Morals, Herman Melville, Billy Budd, and selections from Dostoevsky, Twain, Melville, Plato, Blackstone, Holmes, Milton, Kant, and others.

HR 240 Observation and Description

We will study the observation and description of reality as a fundamental and daunting problem for human rights. Pain, violence, victimization, and injustice have long been a part of human reality.  Can we change, or are we doomed to repeat ourselves and kill and torture one another until the end of time?  The answer is not obvious. But one thing is certain: as long as we stay in the cave, in obscurity, and only look at shadows, we are not going to resolve this conundrum. Going into the world, trying to look at it and describe it, is the only way for us to escape that cavern of ideology, of disempowering shadows and ghosts. And while there is no such a thing as truth or objectivity, this process of trying to understand what we see, how we see it and how to describe it, brings us closer to a resolution — by action — of this fundamental question. In order to reach the point of rawness where we reformulate for ourselves what observation and description are, we must escape the predicament and predictability of known methods and forms.  We need to position ourselves in a no-man’s land, beyond traditional specializations in knowledge and practice. In this seminar, we are out to re-appropriate reality, to get at perception before it has been shaped as expression, to see images in the heart and eye before they harden as categories, styles, definitions — and if it is possible to do so, to reconcile the layers of meanings and to pull from all these contradictions some organized process, where the documentary act begins.  We will focus on visual awareness, not as an illustration of ideas, but as a seed for ideas in themselves. We will try, through examples and assignments, to investigate how non-professionals can use not only current technologies but also new visual attitudes, so that reports and communications can escape their usual dreariness, so that human rights reporting can be formalized in such a way as to escape its own ghetto and be made attractive, visually and emotionally engaging to the largest possible audience.

HR 241 Law & Society: Constitutions

The constitution stands at the intersection of law and society. It is many things: a basic law, a social contract, a statement of aspirations and a road map for governance. It application reflects the continuing struggles of a society to define itself through law. Constitutionalism has been a feature of the modern state for several centuries. Written constitutions with elaborate human rights provisions enforced by ‘courts’ are a very recent innovation. In the course of 50 years, they have gone from being a relative rarity to a widespread norm. This class will look at the theory and practice of constitutionalism across different countries and regions, focusing particularly on the recent decades. After anchoring the discussion in historical sources and the peculiar role of the US constitution, we will look at ‘cases and controversies’ from other countries, including France, Germany, India, South Africa, Israel and parts of South America.

HR 253  Abolishing Prisons and the Police

This course explores what’s to be gained, lost and what we can’t imagine about a world without prisons. Through the figure of abolition (a phenomenon we will explore via movements to end slavery, the death penalty, abortion, gay conversion therapy and more) we will explore how and why groups of Americans have sought to bring an absolute end to sources of human suffering. In turn, we will explore a history of the punitive impulse in American social policy and seek to discern means of intervening against it. Finally, on the specific question of prison abolition, we will think through how to “sell” abolition to the masses and design a multi-media ad campaign to make prison abolition go viral.

HR 245 Humanism and Antihumanism in 20th Century French Thought

What is the legacy of humanism and its very long tradition in twentieth-century French thought? So strong was once the belief in its values that humanism came to be equated, in France, with republicanism and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. And yet, the humanists’ affirmation of the centrality of man – the “measure of all things” –, their faith in the dignity of man, their commitment to reason, progress and universal truth came under severe attack throughout the century, under the influence of Marx, Nietzsche and Heidegger, to be ultimately denounced as nothing more than a construct of “petit bourgeois” ideology. Althusser praised Marx for having reduced to ashes the “myth” of man, Foucault celebrated its disappearances “like a face drawn in the sand at the edge of the sea”, and Derrida painstakingly undermined the metaphysical foundation of subjectivity. What happens to ethics and politics when what appears to be its very foundation is withdrawn? Does antihumanism signal the end of responsibility? This course surveys the ongoing, contentious and often violent debate between humanism and antihumanism in France throughout the 20th century. Our goal will be to understand, for instance, how Sartre, who ferociously mocked humanism in the 1930s came to declare, after the war, that Existentialism is a Humanism; to grasp why Simone de Beauvoir could plead for an Ethics of Ambiguity while Camus condemned all form of revolutionary action, even when conducted in the name of justice. Along the way, we will examine how this debate is tied to the understanding of the role of the intellectual, and issues of colonialism, feminism, political activism and environmentalism. Texts include fictions and essays by Antelme, Bataille, de Beauvoir, Benda, Bergson, Camus, Deleuze, Derrida, Fanon, Ferry, Foucault, Irigaray, Lévinas, Malraux, Merleau-Ponty, Mounier, Nizan, Rancière, Ricœur, Sartre, Todorov, Weil and others.

HR 213  Gay Rights, Human Rights

This course offers students an in-depth survey of historical and contemporary struggles for LGBT rights, from the right to association and repeal of anti-sodomy statutes, to privacy rights, equal protection, and military service, from employment discrimination, same sex marriage, and adoption rights, to transgender rights around restroom access and incarceration. While the course focuses on LGBT rights in the U.S., we also consider broader contexts in American history, globalization and international human rights law. Topics in the first part of the course include 1) a brief introduction to homophobia and anti-gay legislation; 2) Pioneering early homosexual emancipation movements in Germany before the rise of National Socialism and 3) Pre-Stonewall “homophile movements” in the United States in the context of 1950s anti-communist hysteria. In the second part of the course, topics include: 1) The Stonewall Riots (1969) and development of a national gay rights movement in tandem with the Civil and Women’s Rights movements of the 1960s; 2) Conservative anti-gay backlash and “moral panic” surrounding the anti-gay campaigns of the 1970s; and 3) The AIDS crisis and radical queer activism during the “culture wars” of the 1980s. In the third part of the course, we explore how the political struggle for gay rights has played out in elections, in the U.S. congress, and in the courts, including 1) Decriminalizing homosexuality from Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) to Lawrence v. Texas (2003); 2) Allowing gays to serve openly in the military, from “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (1994) to the Murphy Amendment (2010); 3) Legalizing same-sex marriage, from DOMA (1996) to Obergefell v. Hodges (2015); and 4) Transgender access to public restrooms, from Cruzan v. Special School District (2002) to North Carolina’s HB2 (2016). Students will become familiar with major U.S. advocates for LGBT rights, such as the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, the Human Rights Campaign Fund, and the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, as well as with important global developments concerning LGBT rights in the arena of International human rights law, such as the Yogyakarta Principles (2007).

HR / HIST 2702 The History of Liberties, Rights and Human Rights, 1215 to Present

The history of ‘human rights’ can formally be said to have come into existence only with the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the successor conventions that ultimately formed the International Bill of Human Rights. Both the declaration and its later instantiations were created in reaction to the problems of genocide and mass population transfers (and consequent loss of citizenship) during the Second World War. This course will begin by examining the fatal gaps in the previous system of nationally instantiated “universal” rights as they were initially developed in Europe and selectively applied to or adopted by its colonies. Beginning with the pursuit of liberties in peasant communes and early modern law, we will examine the creation of national rights from the treaty of Westphalia through the British, American, and French revolutions, and the relation of these rights to colonial administration. The post-war institutions of human rights provided a new justification for a universal and ‘open’ standard of laws and fealty (often compared to imperial Rome) and ultimately provided new legitimation for the selective intervention of stronger powers in the affairs of weaker political or legal entities. By focusing on case studies, particularly those from the contrasting cases of the European Union and United States, the relation of human rights to hegemonic power will be examined in detail. The course will also examine the relation of politics to the infrastructures that made both widespread human rights infractions and their curtailment possible. The role of media (telegraph, radio, etc.), systems of organization (passports, criminal archives) and police (secret police, international monitors) will be considered as modern transnational phenomenon that are intimately connected with the development and fate of enforcing human rights norms. The final section of the course will look at the role of international NGO’s in both monitoring human rights and criticizing the state of existing human rights law, particularly in their criticism of human rights as a product of a particular north Atlantic perspective and set of biases.

ANTH / HR 233 Problems in Human Rights

This course approaches a set of practical and ethical human rights issues through the study of historical and contemporary campaigns, starting with the British anti-slavery movement of the 18th and 19th centuries. The emphasis is on practical questions of strategy and organization and the problems that arise from these. What were the challenges that early campaigners faced? How did they resolve them?  What alliances of interest did they confront? And what coalitions did they form to combat them? The course also considers how human rights campaigners have engaged with – and been part of – wider political, religious and economic changes. It examines the negotiations and compromises that led to a key event in the twentieth-century human rights history: the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Has the subsequent success of the human rights movement – particularly the expansion of international human rights legislation – changed its character?  The course examines the landmine ban campaign, the campaign against female genital cutting and the campaign against child soldiers – and considers the ideological challenges these issues present to the international human rights regime. When, if ever, are indigenous values more important than universal principles? What is the relation of human rights to religious values? Is human rights itself a quasi-religious belief system? Finally the course considers some contemporary challenges facing the human rights movement: the return of slavery and slave-like practices and the question of genocide in Darfur, in particular the role of the International Criminal Court.

ANTH 261 Anthropology of Violence and Suffering

Why do acts of violence continue to grow in the ‘modern’ world? In what ways has violence become naturalized in the contemporary world? In this course, we will consider how acts of violence challenge and support modern ideas of humanity, raising important questions about what it means to be human today. These questions lie at the heart of anthropological thinking and also structure contemporary discussions of human rights. Anthropology’s commitment to “local culture” and cultural diversity has meant that anthropologists often position themselves in critical opposition to “universal values,” which have been used to address various forms of violence in the contemporary world. The course will approach different forms of violence, including ethnic and communal conflicts, colonial education, torture and its individualizing effects, acts of terror and institutionalized fear, and rituals of bodily pain that mark individuals’ inclusion or exclusion from a social group. The course is organized around three central concerns. First, we will discuss violence as a means of producing and consolidating social and political power, and exerting political control. Second, we will look at forms of violence that have generated questions about “universal rights” of humanity versus culturally specific practices, such as widow burning in India and female genital mutilation in postcolonial Africa. In these examples, we explore gendered dimensions in the experience of violence among perpetrators, victims, and survivors. Finally, we will look at the ways human rights institutions have sought to address the profundity of human suffering and pain, and ask in what ways have they succeeded and/or failed. Readings will range from theoretical texts, anthropological ethnographies, as well as popular representations of violence in the media and film.

ARTH 289 Rights and the Image

An examination of the relationship between visual culture and human rights, using case studies that range in time from the early modern period (marking the body to register criminality, for example) to the present day (images from Abu Ghraib). Subjects addressed include evidence, disaster photography, advocacy images, censorship, and visibility and invisibility.

HIST 2631 Capitalism and Slavery

Scholars have argued that there is an intimate relationship between the contemporary wealth of the developed world and the money generated through four hundred years of chattel slavery in the Americas and the transatlantic slave trade. Is there something essential that links capitalism, even liberal democratic capitalism, to slavery? How have struggles against slavery and for freedom and rights, dealt with this connection? This course will investigate the development of this linkage, studying areas like the gender dynamics of early modern Atlantic slavery, the correlation between coercive political and economic authority, and the financial implications of abolition and emancipation. We will focus on North America and the Caribbean from the early 17th century articulation of slavery through the staggered emancipations of the 19th century. The campaign against the slave trade has been called the first international human rights movement – today does human rights discourse simply provide a human face for globalized capitalism, or offer an alternative vision to it? Questions of contemporary reparations, rising colonialism and markets of the nineteenth century, and the ‘duty’ of the Americas to Africa will also be considered. Readings will include foundational texts on capitalism and a variety of historical approaches to the problem of capitalism within slavery, from economic, cultural, and intellectual perspectives. There are no prerequisites, although HIST 130, 2133, or 263 all serve as introductory backgrounds.

LIT 218 Free Speech

An introduction to debates about freedom of expression. The course will examine the ways in which rights, language, privacy and publicity have been linked together in ideas about democracy. What is ‘freedom of speech’? Is there a right to say anything? Why? We will investigate who has had this right, where it has come from, and what it has had to do in particular with literature. What powers does speech have, who has the power to speak, and for what? Debates about censorship, hate speech, the Firstamendment and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be obvious starting points, but we will also explore some less obvious questions: about faith and the secular, confession and torture, surveillance, the emergence of political agency. In asking about the status of the speaking human subject, we will look at the ways in which the subject of rights, and indeed the thought of human rights itself, derives from a ‘literary’ experience. These questions will be examined, if not answered, across a variety of literary, philosophical, legal and political texts, with a heavy dose of case studies (many of them happening right now) and readings in contemporary critical and legal theory.

HR 255 Sanctuary: Engaging State and Local Government for Human Rights

The rise of ‘sanctuary cities’ has pitted the Federal Government against states and localities in the enforcement of immigration law. The battles ignite questions about federalism that have persisted since the adoption of the US Constitution: while Federal law is ‘supreme’ in the Constitution, States remain ‘sovereign’. There is a long history of engaging state and local government in human rights struggles, from resistance to fugitive slave laws in the early Republic to the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa and the protection of immigrants today.  But local activism cuts both ways and ‘States Rights’ have long been associated with resisting rights, including desegregation, LGBT rights and religious pluralism. This class will explore the history and legal underpinnings of local government engagement for human rights. The readings will include historical materials, Supreme Court cases and related commentary. The second half of the class will focus on the current struggle over immigration law enforcement and sanctuary. The readings will include contemporary writings on immigration law, the role of states and localities, and case studies of sanctuary towns and cities. The class will include discussions with activists and government officials engaged for and against sanctuary.

LIT/ HR 2509 Telling Stories About Rights

What difference can fiction make in struggles for rights and justice? And what can this effort to represent injustice, suffering, or resistance tell us about about fiction and literature? This course will focus on a wide range of fictions, from a variety of writers with different backgrounds, that tell unusual stories about the rights of individuals and communities to justice. We will read novels addressing human migration, injustices committed in the name of the state against a minority, and the harsh conditions under which some communities operate as part of their survival strategy, among other topics. We will look at the ways in which literary forms can allow universalizing claims to be made, exploring how racism, disenfranchisement, poverty, and lack of access to education and health care, for instance, can affect the dignity of all humans. Readings may include: Chronicles of a Death Foretold by Garcia Marquez; Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson; Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg; Our Nig by Harriet Wilson; Balzac & the Chinese Seamstress by Sijai Dai; Winter is in the Blood by James Welch ; The Way to Rainy Mountain by N. Scott Momaday; Wolves of the Crescent Moon by Yousef Al-Mohaimeed, and Bound to Violence by Yambo Ouleguem. We will also watch a number of films based on the novels (including Chronicles, Smilla’s Sense, Balzac, Snow Falling), and The First Grader (2001, on the right to education in Kenya)

PS 145 Human Rights in Global Politics

This course aims to familiarize students with the principal historical and sociological explanations behind the rise of human rights, its principal actors, institutions and legal frameworks, and the main international, regional and national settings in which the debates and practices of human rights take place. The course is divided into three core sections. The first explores the origins of the notion of human rights, taking into consideration the importance of such historical developments as the atrocities of World War II, especially those committed by Germany’s Nazi regime, and sociological explanations derived from theories of modernization and globalization and the main actors and institutions in the human rights arena, from the basic legal framework of human rights standards (e.g., the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention, to name a few), to the role of major international players, such as the United States and the European Community, to powerful non-governmental actors such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, and the Center for Transitional Justice. The second part examines human rights activism in action, such as humanitarian interventions against genocide and the process of transitional justice in nations exiting political regimes notorious for their human rights abuses. The third and final section examines the dominant debates within the human rights movement, such as the rejection of the expansive “Western” view of human rights in many parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and the increasing scrutiny being paid to how mature democracies, like the United States, often fail to conform to internationally-accepted human rights norms.

SPAN 240 Testimonial Literature

This course provides the opportunity for students to engage critically with texts that serve as a public forum for voices often silenced in the past. Students will also learn about the broader context of the hemisphere’s history through the particular experiences of women from Bolivia, Guatemala, Argentina, Mexico, and the U.S.-Latino community, including Rigoberta Menchú, Domitila Barrios de Chungara, and Cherríe Moraga. We will read testimonial accounts documenting the priorities and concerns of women who have been marginalized for reasons of poverty, ethnic difference, political ideologies, or sexual preference. The semester will be devoted to analyzing the formin which their memories are represented textually, and to the discussion of the historical circumstances that have led to their marginalization. Some of the central questions that will organize our discussions are: how to represent memories of violence and pain? What are the ultimate effects of mediations of the written word, translations to hegemonic languages, and the interventions of well-intentioned intellectuals? How best to use writing as a mechanism to trace a space for dignity and “difference”? We will integrate films that portray the issues and time-periods documented in the diaries and testimonial narratives to be read – including “Men With Guns”, “El Norte,” “Historia oficial,” and “Rojo amanecer.”