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HISTORY 3XX3 HumanRightsInHistory

Academic Year: Winter 2017

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Bonny Ibhawoh


Office: Chester New Hall 604

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 26546


Office Hours: Mon. & Wed. 12:30 - 1:30 p.m. and by appointment.

Course Objectives:

Course Objectives:
This course examines the global historic evolution of the concept of human rights, highlighting how early philosophical thoughts and historical events shaped the modern human rights movement.
We begin with a discussion of conceptual and theoretical debates over the meaning of human rights. We then trace the development of the notion of human rights through ancient religious texts, the discourses of Classical philosophy, Renaissance and Enlightenment thought. We examine the impact of the American and French Revolutions, the anti-slavery movement, industrialization, imperialism, and the two World Wars on the advancement of ideas about human rights. Finally, we explore the internationalization of the human rights movement in the twentieth century and the ongoing challenges facing the so-called ‘Rights Revolution.’
This course is intended to provide students with an understanding of historical events that have shaped contemporary human rights as well as the ability to conduct independent research on human rights themes. The course is based on a combination of lectures and tutorial discussions.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Textbooks & Materials:
Required Books:
Micheline Ishay, The History of Human Rights: From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era (University of California Press) – referred to as Ishay Text
Micheline Ishay, ed. The Human Rights Reader: Major Political Essays, Speeches and Documents from Ancient Times to the Present, 2nd Edition (Routledge) – referred to as Ishay Reader

Method of Assessment:

Method of Assessment: Description Weight Due Date
Participation Grade
Tutorial Participation (15%)
Tutorial Presentation (5%)
On-going (8 tutorial sessions – Online and in-class)
Midterm Test
Wednesday, February 15th
Research Paper
Proposal / Bibliography (10%)
Final Essay (30%)
Wednesday, February 8th
Monday, March 20th
Final Exam
Scheduled by Registrar
TUTORIAL GRADE (20% of final grade)
Tutorial Participation: (15%)
All students are expected to attend and participate actively in tutorials. You are expected to engage in Wednesday tutorial classes – both in-class and online (on the Avenue to Learn discussion board). Participation in the online discussion board outside tutorial hours is also encouraged. Marks will be based on how well your comments reflect an engagement with the course material, clarity of thought and expression, and frequency and quality of contributions. It is strongly recommended that you come to tutorial with written notes on the assigned readings. Attendance is expected at both in-class and online tutorials, and will be taken into account in the final grade.
Tutorial Presentation (5%)
Students will be required to sign into a tutorial group on A2L, and each group will be responsible for guiding one week of tutorial discussions (either in-class or online). Tutorial group discussions offer a forum to examine topics and issues in greater detail than is possible during lectures, and to explore primary sources relating to human rights. Groups are expected to critically analyze the readings and pose questions for the class to discuss. Groups are also encouraged to go beyond the class readings. Each group must post their final presentation and related questions (not more than 3 pages) on Avenue to Learn (General Tutorial Discussion Forum) by 5pm on the day before their tutorial class presentation. Presentation marks are group marks.
MIDTERM TEST (10% of final grade)
Students will take a midterm test, which will consist of questions that require short essay answers. It will require students to think analytically about the course material and to integrate information from readings, lectures and tutorial discussions. ** Held in class on Wed, February 15th
RESEARCH PAPER (40% of final grade)
1. Essay Proposal and Annotated Bibliography: (10%)
Students are required to hand in a research proposal outlining the details of their research paper as well as an annotated bibliography. See Essay proposal guidelines on A2L.
** Due in class on Wednesday, February 8th
2. Final Essay: (30% of final grade)
Research papers should be on a topic on any aspect of this course. Papers should have a central thesis and should be based on scholarly sources indicated in the references and bibliography. Endeavour to use both primary and secondary sources where possible. Papers should be approximately 8-10 pages (not including bibliography) typed in 12-point font, double-spaced. Students should keep a backup electronic and paper copy to guard against loss.
** Due in class on Monday, March 20th
FINAL EXAM (30% of final grade)
The final exam is cumulative and will consist of short answer and essay questions.
** Held during the exam period, scheduled by the Registrar’s Office

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

If you are unable to make it to class on the day an assignment is due as a result of illness or an emergency, you must contact the instructor before the paper is due to make arrangements for submission.
Late assignments that do not have an extension from the instructor will be penalized 3% per day (including weekends), beginning from the due date.
Paper Format and Submission Instructions:
Assignments should be submitted in paper copy to the instructor in class on the due date.
Late papers must be submitted to the drop box outside the History Department, CNH 619. No electronic copies of assignments will be accepted.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Part I – Pre-History of the Human Rights Movement

Week 1 – Introduction (no tutorial this week)
Jan. 4, 9-11: Course Introduction / Definitions: What are Human Rights?
Marie-Benedicte Dembour, "What are human rights? Four Schools of Thought." Human Rights Quarterly 32, no. 1 (February 2010): 1-20. (A2L)
Brian Orend, “Basic Vocabulary and Core Concepts” in Human Rights: Concepts and Context, 2-11. (End at “Hohfeld’s Analysis”) (A2L).
Human Rights Principles, UNFPA (A2L)

Week 2 – Current Debates (Online Tutorial)
Jan. 16-18: The Origins of Human Rights
Universalism vs Cultural Relativism
Ishay (Textbook) – Introduction (1-14)
Eva Brens, “Conflict among Human Rights Norms,” (A2L)

Week 3 – Pre-Modern Traditions and Rights
Jan. 23-25: Religious Contributions to Human Rights
Secular Traditions of Human Rights
Ishay (Textbook) – Chapter One: Early Ethical Contributions to Human Rights (16-61)

Week 4 – The Enlightenment and the Western Tradition of Rights
Jan. 30-Feb 1: Enlightenment Thinkers and the Conceptual Roots of Human Rights
The Impact of the French and American Revolution
Ishay (Textbook) – Chapter Two: Human Rights and the Enlightenment (63-116)

Week 5 – Anti-Slavery as Human Rights (Essay Proposal due Feb. 8)
Feb. 6-8: Anti-Slavery as Human Rights
Jenny Martinez, “Britain and the Slave Trade: The Rise of Abolitionism” in The Slave Trade and the
Origins of International Human Rights Law (A2L)

Week 6 – Human Rights, Socialism and the Industrial Age (Midterm Test Feb 15)
Feb. 13-15: Socialist Influence on Human Rights
Human Rights and the Industrial Age
Ishay (Textbook) - “Human Rights and the Industrial Age” [117-155]


Part II – Origins of and Challenges to the Modern Human Rights Movement

Week 7 – The World Wars, Self-Determination and the End of Empire (Online Tutorial)
Feb. 27-Mar 1: The Impact of the First and Second World War
Self-Determination, Decolonization and Human Rights
Ishay (Textbook) – Chapter Four: The World Wars (173-211)

Week 8 – The Development of the International Human Rights Regime
Mar 6-8: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Struggle for an International Covenant on Human Rights
Ishay (Textbook) – Chapter Four: The World Wars (211-225)

Week 9 –Human Rights during the Cold War (Online Tutorial)
Mar 13-15: Cold War Culture and Human Rights
Indigenous Understandings of Rights
Ishay (Textbook) – Chapter Four: The World Wars (225-243)

Week 10 – Expanding Human Rights: Social Movements and Minority Rights (No tutorial this week)
Mar 20-22: Human Rights as a Social Movement [Final Paper DUE in Class on March 20]
The Rights of Indigenous People and LGBTQ struggles for Rights Inclusion
Ishay (Textbook) – Chapter Five: Globalization and its Impact (245-311)

Week 11 – Limits to the Rights Revolution: Rights in the Age of Globalization and Terror
Mar 27-29: The Implications of the War on Terror on Human Rights
Challenges to Human Rights Movements in the 21st Century
Ishay (Textbook) – Chapter Six: Promoting Human Rights in the Twenty-first Century (315-355)

Week 12 – Conclusion (No tutorial this week)
Apr 3-5: Exam Review