Voorbij de laatste utopie | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 131, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 0040-7518
  • E-ISSN: 2352-1163



Human rights is a highly contested concept in both current public debates and recent historiography. In this review essay the historiographical debate about human rights, in particular invoked by Samuel Moyn’s (2010), is analysed by discussing three recent monographs: Mark Bradley’s (2016), Steven L.B. Jensen’s (2016), and Marco Duranti’s (2017). Although these books offer valuable insights into the much- debated ‘global breakthrough’ and chronology of human rights, their main contribution has to be located elsewhere: in ‘provincializing’ the foreign policy of the United States (Bradley), in pointing to unknown but influential actors and issues in the history of the United Nations (Jensen), and in providing a new perspective on the early days of European integration (Duranti). Based on this analysis, it is argued that human rights and their chronology should no longer be considered as a historiographical field in isolation, but that human rights must be investigated as part of broader political ideologies and practices, as a tool of marginalized countries and groups, and as a concept that enables historians better to understand relations between developments at the local and translocal level, and domestic and foreign policies.


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  • Article Type: Discussion
Keyword(s): historiography; human rights; Samuel Moyn; twentieth century
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