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HISTORY 3XX3 Human Rights in History (C01)

Academic Year: Spring/Summer 2019

Term: Spring

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Bonny Ibhawoh


Office: Chester New Hall 604

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 26546


Office Hours: Mondays 7pm-9pm

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.

At the end of the course, I expect that students will:

  • Have enhanced understanding of the development and historical, political and cultural contexts of Human Rights in World History.
  • Become well-versed in the language and institutions of Human Rights.
  • Gain better understanding of the different ways in which rights and freedoms are understood, thereby gaining more critical perspectives on contemporary human rights issues.
  • Develop research methods and critical problem solving skills, including ability to recognize bias, identify missing voices, and appreciate the limitations of sources and methods.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

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
  • Supplemantary Reading Materials on Avenue to Learn

Method of Assessment:

Method of Assessment:



Due Date

Online Discussion



Short Essay 1


Tuesday, May 20

Short Essay 2


Friday, May 31

Digital Research Paper (Backgrounder)


Tuesday, June 11

Major Research Paper


Tuesday, June 18

Final Exam


In person. June 20 or 21. TBA

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

This class is delivered completely online from May 6-June 21. There are 12 topics in all and my expectation is that students will cover 2 topics each week. Although this is an online class, I recommended that you dedicate at least 6 hours each week to this course, which is the same amount of lecture time for an in-class course. For each Topic, you should

  • Watch the lecture video
  • Read the core materials for topic from the textbooks
  • Read relevant supplementary materials for each topic available online
  • Contribute to the topic discussion forum (This will constitute your participation mark of 10%)

Live Online Meetings:

We will have occasional live online meetings during my office hours using WebEx/Teams. Information about the date and times for meetings will be posted in Avenue to Learn. I will be available for Online Office hours (WebEx/Teams) on Thursdays from 7:00pm to 9:00pm.

Discussion Forum Guidelines

The Online Discussion Forums are intended to provide an informal place for you to discuss the course material with your classmates. I will post discussion questions, but students are also encouraged to pose questions for discussion. Participation marks will be awarded based on the quality and frequency of your contribution to the discussion. There are sample discussion questions at the end of each lecture slide to guide you.

Questions of human rights can be contentions and polarizing. In discussing difficult human rights issues and events, our goal as students of history is to foster critical inquiry. We should approach our discussions with openness and curiosity, with a willingness to share your perspective on a topic and to gain a better understanding of others’ perspectives. Our goal is to critically assess human rights-related ideas and events in the social, political and cultural contexts in which they occurred, and to make informed judgments about them. Be respectful and considerate in your discussions.

Course Assignments

You’ll have several opportunities to develop your research skills in this course, as you’ll submit a short essay and a longer research essay. For a short guide on writing history essays see the document “Writing a History Essay” on Avenue to Learn and M. L. Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing History.  Please consult the instructor if you have any questions. All essays must be typed 12-point font, double-spaced and submitted in the appropriate assignment folder on Avenue to Lean. Assignments should be submitted in Word or PDF format (preferably Word) with the course title, assignment number and student name as the file name. E.g. 3XX3-Assignment_2-Sheldon.Cooper

Graded essays will be returned through Avenue e-mail. For essay grading criteria and essay comments, see “Essay Evaluation Guide” and “Marking Codes” on Avenue to Learn. Unless otherwise specified, you must include footnotes and a bibliography for every course assignment. For references, use Chicago Style. A quick guide is available on this website.

Avenue to Learn

In this course we will be using Avenue to Learn (A2L). In addition to assigned articles, you will find lecture outlines and study sheets posted here. Specific documents and articles will also be posted on Avenues to Learn when indicated, including for the final research paper.

Students should be aware that, when they access the electronic components of this course, private information such as first and last names, user names for the McMaster e-mail accounts, and program affiliation may become apparent to all other students in the same course. The available information is dependent on the technology used. Continuation in this course will be deemed consent to this disclosure. If you have any questions or concerns about such disclosure please discuss this with the course instructor.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Deadlines are necessary to the smooth running of the course and it is the student's responsibility to meet them. The pressure of other course deadlines and extracurricular activities are hurdles you should try to foresee and account for in your own time management. In general, deadline extensions will only be provided on the basis of extenuating and not reasonably foreseeable circumstances. Students requiring SAS accommodations should register with SAS at their earliest opportunity.

Late document analysis papers will be penalized 3% per day (weekends included). Extensions for these papers must be given by the instructor in writing. Legitimately excused midterms will be rescheduled by the instructor as soon as possible.

All assignments must be completed for credit: the instructor does not re-weight the final as a result of missed/late assignments or tests.

All MSAF requests will receive the exact same extension: exactly 4 days (96 hours) from the original deadline for the assignment or test. MSAFs should be directed to the instructor.

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:

TOPIC 1 – Introduction

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)


TOPIC 2 – Current Debates

The Origins of Human Rights

Universalism vs Cultural Relativism

  • Ishay (Textbook) – Introduction (1-14)
  • Eva Brens, “Conflict among Human Rights Norms,” (A2L)


TOPIC 3 – Pre-Modern Traditions and Rights

Religious Contributions to Human Rights

Secular Traditions of Human Rights

  • Ishay (Textbook) – Chapter One: Early Ethical Contributions to Human Rights (16-61)


TOPIC 4 - The Enlightenment and the Western Tradition of Rights

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)


TOPIC 5 - Anti-Slavery as Human Rights

Anti-Slavery as Human Rights

  • Bonny Ibhawoh, “Humanitarians and Abolitionist” (A2L)
  • Jenny Martinez, “Britain and the Slave Trade: The Rise of Abolitionism” in The Slave Trade and the

Origins of International Human Rights Law (A2L)


TOPIC 6 - Human Rights, Socialism and the Industrial Age

Socialist Influence on Human Rights

Human Rights and the Industrial Age

  • Ishay (Textbook) - “Human Rights and the Industrial Age” [117-155]




TOPIC 7 – The World Wars, Self-Determination and the End of Empire

The Impact of the First and Second World War

Self-Determination, Decolonization and Human Rights

  • Ishay (Textbook) – Chapter Four: The World Wars (173-211)
  • Jack Mahoney, "The Modern Human Rights Movement," in Jack Mahoney, The Challenge of Human Rights: Origin, Development and Significance, p. 42-70. (A2L)
  • Norman Rockwell Paintings- Human Rights in Art (Reflect on paintings)


TOPIC 8 – The Development of the International Human Rights Regime

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Struggle for an International Covenant on Human Rights

  • Ishay (Textbook) – Chapter Four: The World Wars (211-225)
  • Brooke Jefferey, “The Evolution of Human Rights Protection in Canada" in Human Rights: Current Issues and Controversies. Gordon DiGiacomo ed. p. 3-29 [A2L]
  • The Core International Human Rights Treaties [A2L]


TOPIC 9 – Human Rights during the Cold War / Human Rights in Canada

Cold War Culture and Human Rights

The Human Rights Struggles of Indigenous Peoples

  • Ishay (Textbook) – Chapter Four: The World Wars (225-243)
  • Gordon Digiacomo and Tracie Scott, "Aboriginal Rights: The Right to Self-Government versus the Right to Self-Determination," in Human Rights: Current Issues and Controversies. Gordon DiGiacomo ed. p. 218-239


TOPIC 10 – Expanding Human Rights: Social Movements and Minority Rights

Human Rights as a Social Movement

The Rights of Indigenous People and LGBTQ struggles for Rights Inclusion

  • Ishay (Textbook) – Chapter Five: Globalization and its Impact (245-311)
  • Darren J O'Byrne, "Regulating Human Rights" in Darren J O'Byrne, Human Right: An Introduction, pp. 72-105 (Social Movements)


Topic 11 – Limits to the Rights Revolution: Globalization, Mass Migration & Terrorism

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)
  • David Zarnett, "Human Rights NGOs," in Human Rights: Current Issues and Controversies. Gordon DiGiacomo ed. .pp.115-141


Topic 12 – Conclusion: The Future of Human Rights

Exam Review



Week 1 - May 6-10

TOPIC 1 – Introduction

TOPIC 2 – Current Debates


Week 2 - May 13-17

TOPIC 3 – Pre-Modern Traditions and Rights

TOPIC 4 - The Enlightenment and the Western Tradition of Rights


Week 3 - May 20-24 - Short Essay 1 (10%) – Tuesday May 21

TOPIC 5 - Anti-Slavery as Human Rights

TOPIC 6 - Human Rights, Socialism and the Industrial Age


Week 4 - May 27-31 - Short Essay 2 (10%) – Due Friday, May 31

TOPIC 7 – The World Wars, Self-Determination and the End of Empire

TOPIC 8 – The Development of the International Human Rights Regime


Week 5 - June 3-7

TOPIC 9 – Human Rights during the Cold War / Human Rights in Canada

TOPIC 10 – Expanding Human Rights: Social Movements and Minority Rights


Week 6 - June 10-14 - Digital History Assignment: Human Rights Case Backgrounder (20%) – Due

Wednesday June 11

Topic 11 – Limits to the Rights Revolution: Rights in the Age of Globalization and Terror

Topic 12 – Conclusion: The Future of Human Rights


Week 7 - June 17-21 - Research Essay (30%) – Due Wednesday June 18

In-person exam on June 20 or 21. Time & Venue will be announced

Essays and Exams