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Samuel Moyn - The First Historian of Human Rights (2011) | JSTOR - The American Historical Review
Vol. 116, No. 1 (February 2011), pp. 58-79 -- Revisiting Ritter's story of the invention of human rights—as perverse as it was pioneering—affords critical distance from what has become a central historiographical fashion. It is precisely because his narrative constructs the past of human rights for so unfamiliar a project that Ritter provides a more vivid reminder of how easy it still is to devise a field with the goal of crafting a usable past for new imperatives. The deep past out of which human rights are supposed to have sprung provides rich but manipulable material for such enterprises. Ritter's first history is also a salutary reminder of the meanings that the concept of human rights accreted in the postwar era, when they transcended the nation‐state and began to be called in English by their current name. The 1940s, when Ritter wrote, are often forced to play the role of precursor in contemporary narratives—as a kind of failed early version of the post–Cold War 1990s, when human rights as a movement and a framework became visible enough to motivate historians to work on them. Given the Universal Declaration, the chronological focus on the 1940s is understandable. But Ritter provides an inadvertent warning against omitting the conservative and religious sources of human rights in that era, and therefore interpreting it anachronistically. His case powerfully buttresses emerging skepticism about the whole notion of rooting contemporary human rights in the 1940s, let alone earlier, given more recent transformations in the very meaning of the concept, and the unprecedented explosion of a movement based on them. -- downloaded pdf to Note
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october 2015 by dunnettreader

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