Archive for category French Revolution

On Lynn Hunt, “Inventing Human Rights”

As we begin Lynn Hunt’s book, Inventing Human Rights, this week, I thought it might be useful to highlight a few key concepts to keep in mind while reading. It might be interesting to think first about what you already associate with the following terms or categories: “the rights of man,” “human rights,” Republic(an), secular, citizen, torture, and empathy.

Next, while reading, think about how Hunt defines or reformulates these categories, and why she situates them within a broad historical context, perhaps one much broader than we anticipated. Think also about the wording of the title and how it relates to her overall argument: what can the juxtaposition of “inventing” with “human rights” tell us about the nature of such rights?

Inventing Human Rights has been praised and criticized for the boldness of its argument.  After you’ve read the Introduction and chapters 1 and 2 and started to form your own (preliminary) opinions about Hunt’s book, check out some of the book reviews published in academic journals and newspapers. I’ve provided a few links here:

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/08/books/review/Wood2.t.html

The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/article/genealogy-morals

The Harvard International Review: http://hir.harvard.edu/courting-africa/dark-ages-of-human-rights (review by Linda A. Malone, a law professor at William & Mary Law).

One key argument in Hunt’s work is about the way novels helped propel changing political ideas during the eighteenth century. In the comments section below, please answer the following question:

Have you ever read a novel (or alternatively seen a film, a work of art, or a song) that has changed your political perspective, or altered your sense of your place in the world and your ethical responsibilities towards others?

We’ll normally ask the French section to post and respond in French, but for this first assignment you can all post your responses in English. Please post your response by Wednesday, September 7th, at 5 p.m. so that we can review them before sections the next day.

Inventing Human Rights

Lynn Hunt will be visiting Duke as part of the Provost’s lecture series on January 19th, and will be visiting our class that day in 326 Allen Building on Duke’s West Campus from 10:05-11:20 to talk about her book Inventing Human Rights (which is our first reading assignment for the semester). It a great deal of attention when it was published in 2007. The eminent U.S. historian Gordon Wood reviewed it in the New York Times, it rated a brief mention in the New Yorker,  and received a range of responses within academic publications. The questions she posed were, as is so often the case in the writing of history, driven at least in part by contemporary events, most particularly the debates about the use of torture that took place in the U.S. in the years after 9/11.  But it also represents the culmination of decades of thinking about the history of rights and revolution. Since the publication of her ground-breaking 1994 book The Family Romance of the French Revolution, she has been one of the leading scholars in the field of European history, and shaped approaches to history by helping to pioneer and showcase the now widespread approaches of cultural history. (You can see a selection of her publications here).

You can watch Lynn Hunt lecture on the book at University of California Santa Barbara below, and see her give a lecture on “Revolutionary Movements” in her class at UCLA in the video below that.

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Share your comments about these lectures and her book here.

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