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

The Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 from 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM (EST)

What Do We Mean By Human Rights? An Historian's...

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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.


Have questions about What Do We Mean By Human Rights? An Historian's Perspective? Contact The Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

When & Where

The City College of New York
160 Convent Avenue
North Academic Center (NAC) Ballroom
New York, NY 10031

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 from 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM (EST)

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The Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

The mission of the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership is to transform students, faculty, communities, and the traditional university experience by adopting problem-based approaches to education. By promoting the values of service, engagement, and leadership, we enable our students to energetically address the challenges of the 21st century. By fostering creative and public scholarship, we ensure that our faculty produces and disseminates scholarship that is both relevant and in-touch. 

The school, located in historic Harlem at The City College of New York, addresses pressing global issues such as expanding rights and democracy, community stability and health, economic growth and national wealth creation and promoting education and the general betterment of those in need. The school focuses its research and teaching activities on fostering solutions that further, equality, prosperity, stability, and peace for the whole people—in Harlem, in New York, and around the globe. 
Specifically, the school:
•provides rigorous degree programs that integrate service, leadership training, and mentoring into the curriculum, ensuring that students engage with real-world challenges and develop the capacity, drive, and public spirit to serve as responsible leaders and stewards of the common good;
•maintains and supports a faculty dedicated to the highest standards of research and to the university’s democratic and public obligations, including the responsibility to disseminate research in usable forms to concerned audiences, particularly to those striving to redress injustice or disparity;
•serves as a forum for experts, policymakers, community leaders, and others dealing with the major challenges of our time in ways that dismantle traditional barriers between the academic world, proximate communities, and the broader public.

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