• 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
    • Prof Carolyn Strange
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Offered in First Semester 2018
    See Future Offerings

Human rights, in ideal terms, are universal. Yet the notion is a product of history. This course traces the cultural, political, religious and philosophical forces that inspired revolutionary thinkers to question old world inequalities and injustice. However, the earliest efforts to establish human rights applied only to privileged minorities and dominant nations.

How did the concept of universal human rights arise? What role has individual and collective voices of protest played in this development? What sorts of actions have been taken to protest rights violations? On what basis has the denial of rights to particular groups been justified? 

The answers to these questions have differed internationally and over time. This course will focus on slavery and forced labour; colonisation; gender disparities and sexual minorities; environmental disasters and degradation; religious oppression; genocide; asylum seeking; the right to die; prisoners’ rights; and political persecution.   

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
2018 $2820
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2018 $4320
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

ANU utilises MyTimetable to enable students to view the timetable for their enrolled courses, browse, then self-allocate to small teaching activities / tutorials so they can better plan their time. Find out more on the Timetable webpage.

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
3577 19 Feb 2018 27 Feb 2018 31 Mar 2018 25 May 2018 In Person N/A

Responsible Officer: Registrar, Student Administration / Page Contact: Website Administrator / Frequently Asked Questions