Cross-posted from: https://humanrights.uchicago.edu/HistoryConference2015
About the Conference: Does human rights have a history? As late as 1998 not a single reference to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights had appeared in any article of the American Historical Review. But by 2006 the field had become prominent enough for the President of the American Historical Association to claim “we are all historians of human rights.” In this recent and very rapid development of the field, the fundamental premises of how we conceive of a history of human rights remain in flux and must be reconsidered: when were “human rights” invented and what were the major stages of the evolution of their different elements? Rights talk emerged in early modern natural law theory, if not before, and played a famous role in early modern revolutions. But while humanitarian agendas sprouted throughout modern history, the international human rights regime began to take root only in the 1940s, and exploded to public prominence in the 1970s.
Do we then tell the longue durée of human rights history as an evolutionary narrative or one of sharp disjunctures and discontinuities? There are also critical substantive issues that remain unresolved. What counts as human rights history? What rights at particular times and places have been seen as human rights and what has made them visible in those moments? What leads ordinary people to band together to found initiatives to monitor human rights violations? When and under what conditions have states propounded and conformed to crucial cosmopolitan norms? Are human rights a Western discourse or are they rooted in a broader array of geographical, gendered and cultural contexts?
This conference draws together leading historians of human rights working across time and space to address these urgent questions. In doing so it honors the contributions of Michael Geyer, Samuel N. Harper Professor of German and European History and the College and a founder of the Human Rights Program at the University of Chicago, to the field of human rights history and to the development of interdisciplinary studies of human rights thought and practice at the University of Chicago.
Faculty Organizers PFCHR Faculty Director Mark Philip Bradley, Jane Dailey, Emily Osborn, Amy Dru Stanley, and Tara Zahra
Additional Support The University of Chicago Library, Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies (CEERES), Center for International Studies (CIS), Department of Anthropology, and Department of History
Conference Schedule See the presenter biographies here.