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Human Rights in Global Perspective


Admission requirements

BSA norm and a pass for both first year Themacolleges


This course explores how human rights have been constructed across transnational, imperial, national, and local spaces in a variety of idioms. We will consider the contested genealogies and limits of human rights through a discussion of historical studies and primary source readings drawn from political philosophy, law, testimony, and visual culture. The class starts in 1948, when the UN and its various organs, such as UNESCO, developed human rights initiatives that reflected on the global catastrophes of the previous years. Over the semester, we will explore four political scales and imaginaries according to which human beings are ascribed rights: as members of universal humanity, as citizens of sovereign nation-states, as subjects of empire, and as people belonging to a particular genos. The course will also consider the centrality of witnessing to an emergent culture of human rights. Finally, we will assess various contested historical precursors to postwar human rights advocacy, such as 18th-century declarations of national independence and “humanitarian” interventions in the high age of European imperialism.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

  • 1) Carry out a common assignment.

  • 2) Devise and conduct research of limited scope, including:
    a. searching, selecting and ordering relevant literature;
    b. organising and using relatively large amounts of information;
    c. an analysis of a scholarly debate;
    d. placing the research within the context of a scholarly debate.

  • 3) Reflect on the primary sources on which the scholarly literature is based;

  • 4) Write a problem solving essay and give an oral presentation after the format defined in the first year Themacolleges, including:
    a. using a realistic schedule of work;
    b. formulating a research question and subquestions;
    c. formulating a well-argued conclusion;
    d. giving and receiving feedback;
    e. responding to instructions of the lecturer.

  • 5) Participate in discussions during class.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialization

  • 6) The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically: in the specialisation General History: the place of European history from 1500 in a worldwide perspective, with a focus on the development and role of international institutions.

  • 7) The student has knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically in the specialisation General History: the study of primary sources and the context specificity of nationally defined histories.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar

  • 8) The student has knowledge of the historical development of international human rights.

  • 9) The student has knowledge of historical methods and sources in the interdisciplinary field of human rights.

  • 10) The student can critically evaluate various local, national, and international bodies which confer, enforce, and violate human rights.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (attendance required)

This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If you are not able to attend, you are required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If you do not comply with the aforementioned requirements, you will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (5000-6000 words, based on historiography, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 2-4, 6-10

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 1, 3-4, 6-10

  • Participation
    measured learning objectives: 5

  • Written response to readings from one class session:
    measured learning objectives: 1, 5, 8-10


  • Written paper: 60 %

  • Oral presentation: 10 %

  • Particiation: 20 %

  • Written response to readings from one class session: 10 %

The final grade is based on the weighted average of the partial grades, with the additional requirement that the paper must be satisfactory.


The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the given deadline, as published in the corresponding Brightspace course.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organised.

Reading list

Assigned literature will be available through Brightspace.


Enrolment through My StudyMap is mandatory.

General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.


Course will be conducted in English.