IDS285-2: Intro.Interdisciplinary Topics

Topic: Origins of Human Rights

August 23, 2017 - December 5, 2017
DaysTimeLocationInstructorGERCreditOPUS #
12:00pm - 12:50pm
Math & Science Center - N306
Sasson, Tehila
12:00pm - 12:50pm
Math & Science Center - N306
Stone, Madelyn

An introduction to interdisciplinary analysis through topics that are best understood through multiple methodologies and forms of evidence. The ILA and IDS program support interdisciplinary inquiry across Emory College; this course will frequently be cross-listed with other departments.

Origins of Human Rights

Instructor:  Prof. Tehila Sasson

MWF 12:00-12:50

Enrollment: HIST:25 / AAS:2 / AFS:2 / ANT:2 / IDS:2 / WGS:2 = 35 total


What are human rights? Where did they originate and when? Who retains them, and when are we obliged to defend them? Though what kinds of institutions, practices, and frameworks have they been advocated and affirmed? And which are the human rights that we take to be self-evident? The rights to speak and worship freely? To legal process? To shelter and nourishment? Can human rights ever be global in scope? Or is the idea of universal human rights a delusion or, worse, a manifestation of cultural chauvinism? This course examines the international history of human rights as a product of history from their deep origins in the 1750s to its more recent formulations in the 1990s. We will begin our inquiry by asking how the categories of "humanity" and “rights” arose, and then turning to how they were combined and used in the last couple of centuries.  We will examine how different types of institutions and practices were developed to protect and preserve these rights, and how state and non-state actors intervene, acted and fought in their name.  We will contemplate on the relationships between human rights and other crucial themes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including revolution, imperialism, racism and genocide. As a history of international and global themes, we will also reflect upon how the evolution of human rights become part of our contemporary framework of politics, law and culture.


This is an interdisciplinary class and reading will include selections from books such as:

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun. Film tie-In edition. Fourth Estate, 2014.

Anderson, Carol. Eyes off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944-55

Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1994.

Bass, Gary J. Freedom’s Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention. 1st ed. Knopf, 2008.

Fassin, Didier. Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present. 1st ed. University of California Press, 2011.

Ferguson, James. The Anti-Politics Machine: “Development,” Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho. U of Minnesota Press, 1990.

Moyn, Samuel. The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010.

Power, Samantha. A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. 3rd ed. Harper Perennial, 2003.

Waal, Alexander de. Famine Crimes: Politics and the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa. London: James Currey, 1997.



The schedule of courses on O.P.U.S. is the official listing of courses, including days and times they meet and the General Education Requirements they satisfy. Students should use course descriptions as general guidelines. Course requirements, grading details, book lists, and syllabi are subject to change.