HST6075: Human Rights in Modern History

15 credits (Semester 2017-18: Spring)

Module Leader: Dr Emily Baughan

Module Summary

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 module, we trace the intellectual origins of human rights within modern 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 imperial expansion and intervention overseas, both in the past and the present day? How can we write the history of an idea?

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.

Module aims

This module aims to:

  1. Introduce students to the birth and growth of rights discourses in modern history
  2. Explore and critically evaluate the historiography human rights
  3. Examine key concepts underpinning rights discourses in a contemporary and historical sense

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, you will be able to:

  1. Describe the changing meanings of 'rights' and 'human rights' in history
  2. Demonstrate a critical awareness of the historiography human rights in the modern able (Aim 2)
  3. Be able to describe the key concepts underpinning historical rights and human rights discourses (A3)
  4. Demonstrate confidence in expressing ideas verbally, both in individual seminar contribution and group work (A1, 2, 3)
  5. Express ideas and evidence through clear and perceptive prose (A1, 2, 3).


Learning hours
Seminar hours Tutorial hours Independent Learning
10 1 139

The module will be taught in five, two-hour classes. The first seminar will introduce you to the concept of human rights in history (Learning outcome 1) and introduce historiographical debates (LO2). Subsequent seminars will involve individual and group work around specific chronological period in the history of human rights (LO1, 2, 3, 4). You will have the chance in seminars to discuss progress and gain formative feedback on a final essay (LO5). You will, in addition, have individual tutorial contact with the module leader in order to discuss your written work for this module.



Assessment methods
Assessment % of final mark Length
Coursework 100% 3000 words

You will prepare a 3,000-word paper on a topic agreed with the tutor. The paper will be expected to draw critically on relevant secondary sources in exploring a historiographical debate or a new area of historical inquiry, and, if appropriate, will also involve scholarly analysis of primary sources (LO2, 3, 4, 5)


Selected reading

  • Coming soon



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