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7th Gerald Stourzh Lecture on the History of Human Rights and Democracy

Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann
Human Rights and History

Wednesday, 20 May 2015, 18 h c.t., Hs. 41

Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann is Associate Professor for Late Modern European History and Director of the Human Rights Program at the University of California Berkeley. He is currently working on two book projects, a short history of human rights and a book on Berlin in the 1940s, as it went from capital of the Nazi Empire to capital of the Cold War.

Publications include: Politics of Sociability: Freemasonry and German Civil Society, 1840-1918 (University of Michigan Press 2007) (German original: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2000); Civil Society, 1750-1914, Studies in European History (Palgrave Macmillan 2006); ed. Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge University Press 2010); ed. with Sandrine Kott, Peter Romijn, Olivier Wieviorka: Seeking Peace in the Wake of War. Europe, 1943-1947 (forthcoming Amsterdam University Press 2015).

Homepage Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann


This talk focuses on the emergence of international human rights as a moral, political, and legal response to the late twentieth-century crisis. The main argument is that human rights idealism surged especially in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, when visions of a new, imminent Kantian world order came into conflict with the realities of ethnic cleansing (Bosnia, Rwanda) and religious fundamentalism. In other words, the talk suggests a shift in our understanding of human rights history. "Human rights" has a long pedigree that can be traced back to the moral critique of the late Enlightenment. Its late twentieth-century revival, however, is not so much the cause as the product of the historical ruptures after the end of the Cold War.

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