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The Oxford Amnesty Lectures

edited by Olwen Hufton

Pub Date: March 15th, 1995
ISBN: 0-465-03076-9
Publisher: Basic

 Gathering together seven lectures by distinguished academic historians, Hufton (History/Oxford Univ.) introduces a much-needed historical perspective into the contemporary discussion on human rights. The essays collected here were originally presented at an annual Oxford lecture series organized by supporters of Amnesty International. All of them deal with ``the tension between natural law and history''--i.e., the degree to which the universalist vision of human rights is a historically constructed phenomenon. Patrick Collinson provides an interesting though overly general review of the role of Protestantism in the development of human rights. Carlo Ginzburg writes eloquently on the connection between general moral imperatives and people's specific social relationships. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie reviews the 18th-century ancien rÇgime's relative social openness and its contribution to the French Revolution's claim of liberty, equality, and fraternity as fundamental rights. Robert Darnton draws on his studies of 18th- century French publishing to present a creative comparison of state censorship practices in France in 1789 and East Germany in 1989. In an essay that is virtually required reading for anyone interested in human rights, Orlando Patterson summarizes his influential argument regarding the relationship of rights discourse to the rise and fall of slavery in the New World. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese raises questions regarding the meaning of freedom for women in 19th- century American society. Ian Kershaw seeks to explain the ease with which Nazi Germany rescinded protective civil rights legislation. Taken as a whole, the essays remind the reader that the apparently natural assumptions of society--in this case the belief in universal human rights--are socially constructed concepts whose evolution is always negotiated in relation to the particular demands of specific historical contexts. Superb social history.