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What Do We Mean by Human Rights? An Historian's Perspective

  • Date
    Tue, Dec 10

    6:30 PM


    North Academic Center
    160 Convent Avenue
    City College of New York

    North Academic Center, ballroom

    p: 212.650.8551


  • Event Details

    Talk by Dean Eric D. Weitz: “What Do We Mean by Human Rights? An Historian’s Perspective.”

    The City College of New York, through the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, the Center for Worker Education and the Division of Humanities & the Arts, presents the first event in a year-long human rights colloquia: a talk by Dean of Humanities & the Arts and Professor of History Eric D. Weitz at the City College of New York: “What Do We Mean by Human Rights? An Historian’s Perspective.”

    The talk will be followed by a conversation between Dean Weitz and Joel Rosenthal, president of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

    “Human rights” is one of those terms that nearly everyone claims to support. We all think that we have a good understanding of what it means, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the prohibition on torture. In this lecture, Weitz will trace the development of human rights from the late-eighteenth century to the present. He will focus especially on “self-determination” and depict how it evolved from a concept of individual emancipation to the favored slogan of national liberation and, ultimately, became inscribed as a human right. The history of self-determination reveals the complexity of human rights—the often tension-laden relationship between individual and collective rights.


    Eric D. Weitz is dean of humanities and arts and professor of history at the City College of New York. He was previously on the faculty of the University of Minnesota, where he was Distinguished McKnight University Professor of History and the Arsham and Charlotte Ohanessian Chair in the College of Liberal Arts. Trained in modern European and German history, his work in recent years has extended to the history and politics of international human rights and crimes against humanity. He received his Ph.D. from Boston University in 1983.

    Weitz has been the recipient of many fellowships and awards from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Council for Soviet and East European Research, and the American Council of Learned Societies, among others.

    His major publications include Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy (2007; second expanded edition 2013), A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation (2003), and Creating German Communism, 1890-1990 (1997), all with Princeton University Press. Weimar Germany was named an "Editor's Choice" by The New York Times Book Review, and was included in the "Year in Books" of The Financial Times (London) and "The Best Books of 2007" of The Independent (London). It has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Polish, and Chinese.

    In 2006 Weitz initiated a book series with Princeton University Press, Human Rights and Crimes against Humanity. He is currently writing, A World Divided: A Global History of Nations and Human Rights from the Age of Revolution to the Present.

    Joel H. Rosenthal has served as president of Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs since 1995. He is also adjunct professor, New York University and chairman of the Bard College Globalization and International Affairs (BGIA) program in New York City. During his tenure as president, the Council has developed its Carnegie Ethics Studio, producing multimedia programs for television, radio, and web audiences worldwide. The Council has also established its Global Ethics Network of Fellows located in two dozen countries in Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America, and the Middle East.