HIST-LIT 90EG: Human Rights and Ethnic Studies





Instructor: Mark Sanchez
Meeting time: Monday, 3:00 - 5:45

Human Rights and Ethnic StudiesHuman rights is often considered a bulwark against authoritarianism and fascism, our “last utopia," but others have critiqued human rights as either a new form of imperialism or as an imposition of western values on the rest of the world. These debates demonstrate that human rights is both a powerful way of calling attention to matters of injustice as well as an idea that is itself the subject of critique. How did this come to be? In this class, we will track the increased attention on human rights in the latter half of the 20th century. Together we will explore how organizers, writers, and intellectuals in the tradition of what we broadly call Ethnic Studies have engaged the dilemmas of human rights while trying to work towards a more just world. We will cover how human rights became an important diplomatic tool during the Cold War, exploring the rise of institutions such as the United Nations and Human Rights Watch. However, we will also engage alternative, grassroots histories of human rights. For example, we will discuss how queer writers and writers of color offered their own emancipatory visions of rights. We will look at social movements such as the Third World Liberation Front Strikes of the late 1960s as calls for more expansive notions of rights. Overall, this class will ask us to confront how even the notion of “rights” has a history. It will ask us to consider that the idea that some have “rights” is often accompanied by others’ “rightlessness.” Ultimately, this class will provide a space for us to consider the question that activists have long asked: can rights save us?