• Offered by School of History
  • ANU College ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
  • Course subject History
  • Areas of interest History, International Relations, Philosophy, Politics
  • Academic career UGRD
  • Course convener
    • Dr Kynan Gentry
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Offered in First Semester 2015
    See Future Offerings

The idea of universal, inalienable rights has become the dominant moral language of our time, with Human Rights having become a source of inspiration to oppressed individuals and groups across the world, and a rallying cry for a global civil society. The ideas shaping contemporary Human Rights, however, have deep historical roots, drawing on religious and secular ethics, morality and social justice in various societies and cultures. This course asks: how did all of this come to be? Are Human Rights the product of a peculiarly European heritage, or is its moral, cultural, and political basis far wider than this? Did human rights serve as a 'civilizing' mask for colonialism, and what has been the relationship between decolonisation and the question of rights? Exploring these and other questions, the course investigates Human Rights not only as theories embodied in texts, but as practices embedded in specific historical contexts, and works towards a genealogy of human rights. Taking a thematic and chronological approach, the course first explores notions of rights across a range of religious and cultural traditions. We examine the impact of the American and French Revolutions on the advancement of ideas about human rights, and how other threads such as the Cold War, Apartheid, and the ‘War on Terror’ have undermined them. We also examine the impacts of slavery, imperialism, war, and genocide, as well as responses to them, and global movements such as civil, indigenous, women’s, and minority rights, and the rise of the modern human rights movement.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

Upon Successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Identify the key moments and international instruments in the establishment of the contemporary human rights regime.
  2. Critically analyse the key issues and debates around the emergence of ideas concerning 'rights' and the specific development of the contested concept of 'human rights'.
  3. Interpret historical representations of human rights.
  4. Undertake original research to apply key course concepts.
  5. Critically analyse the concepts raised in lectures and identify them in the assigned readings.

Indicative Assessment

Tutorial participation (10%) (LO 1,2,3,5)

Primary Document Exercise (1,000 words) (15%) (LO 1,2,3)

Case Study Research Essay (2,500 words) (35%) (LO 1,2,3,4)

Examination 40% (LO 1,2,3,4)

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


3 contact hours per week (mixed lecture/tutorial/workshop format) for 13 weeks. Students will be expected to spend an average of seven hours per week outside these contact hours to prepare for tutorials, research and write the essays (total 130 hours).

Requisite and Incompatibility

To enrol in this course you must have completed 36 units of ANU courses towards a degree, or with the permission of the convenor.

Prescribed Texts


Preliminary Reading

  • Micheline Ishay, The History of Human Rights: from ancient times to the globalization era, University of California Press, 2008.
  • Aryer Neier, The International Human Rights Movement: A History, Princeton University Press, 2013.
  • Roland Burke, Decolonization and the Evolution of International Human Rights, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

  • Lynn Hunt, “The Paradoxical Origins of Human Rights,” in Wasserstrom, Grandin, Hunt, & Young (eds), Human Rights and Revolutions, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007, pp. 3-15.
  • John Locke, excerpt from “The Second Treatise of Government,” in Patrick Hayden (ed), The Philosophy of Human Rights: Readings in Context', Paragon House, 2001, pp. 71-79.
  • Michael Zuckert, “Natural Rights in the American Revolution: The American Amalgam,” in Human Rights and Revolutions, pp. 65-82.
  • David Zaret, “Tradition, Human Rights, and the English Revolution” in Human Rights and Revolutions, pp. 47-63.

Assumed Knowledge

The course does not assume any prior knowledge of human rights. 




Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

If you are a domestic graduate coursework or international student you will be required to pay tuition fees. Tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are an undergraduate student and have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). You can find your student contribution amount for each course at Fees.  Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2015 $2604
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2015 $3576
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

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The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

First Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
3185 16 Feb 2015 06 Mar 2015 31 Mar 2015 29 May 2015 In Person N/A

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