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 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.