Robert Brier’s inspiring article Beyond the Quest for a “Breakthrough”: Reflections on the Recent Historiography on Human Rights has been published in the European History Yearbook 2015 and is available in open access.
Abstract: Human rights have become a central object of international and global history, with research focusing on the question where the origins of the central position of human rights language in our own time lie. The aim of this article is to take stock of this debate and discuss possible future avenues of research. The existing literature has shown, the article argues, that the 1970s were a crucial time for the rise of human rights, but it also warns against declaring this decade or any other time the definite breakthrough for human rights. Underlining how human rights have always been influenced by their past, discussing how tenuous the international position of human rights remains well into our own time and exposing different meanings human rights acquired historically, the article concludes that the identification of multiple chronologies of post-war human rights history and a focus on the great variety of human rights vernaculars provide more promising avenues along which to push this project ahead than the quest for an elusive human rights breakthrough.
Dr. Robert Brier is LSE Fellow in International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science.