When Keith David Watenpaugh, a historian of the Modern Middle East who teaches in the Religious Studies Program, was awarded a $25,000 grant last spring from the Academic Senate’s Committee on Research to launch a Human Rights Initiative, he did not think twice about where he wanted it to live. Watenpaugh approached the UC Davis Humanities Institute about providing a home for his new research initiative since much of what he planned to do was patterned after the Humanities Institute’s core programs such as its faculty research seminar.
“Coming to the Humanities Institute with the Human Rights Initiative was much more than an administrative decision,” said Watenpaugh. “The study of the human condition is very much a part of the way the humanities are understood at the Institute. Bringing the HRI to the Institute makes the point that the history, theory and practice of human rights has a role in the humanities, and humanists, be they historians, artists, or anthropologists, have a role in the protection and promotion of human rights.”
Watenpaugh hopes to bring more shape and organization to the study of human rights at UC Davis and other academic institutions across the region by bringing together faculty and graduate students for greater collaboration and conversations around the topic. To do this, the Initiative will support ongoing undergraduate and graduate programs, including a new Human Rights Minor; host a Human Rights Symposium in Winter 2012 exploring the contested histories of human rights to better understand current debates about the history of human rights, their violation and protection. Among the questions posed: Where do human rights come from? What role have they played in post-World War II anti-colonial struggles? How has human rights discourse changed after 1989 and the end of the Cold War? In Spring 2012, the Initiative will build on the themes of the symposium with a faculty research seminar that brings together faculty members from an array of disciplines to continue the conversation.
As a bridge beyond the humanities, the Initiative will underwrite the development of a graduate seminar offered jointly by the Colleges of Letters & Science and Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Tentatively entitled “Human Rights and Humanitarianism,” the two-quarter research seminar would be designed by faculty working in the fields of International Agricultural development and Community and Human development with an eye to attracting students from both colleges.
Even before much of the work of the Human Rights Initiative takes off this fall, Watenpaugh has been busy blogging about human rights from HRI’s new website. He has filed reports from Geneva, the site of the first major international conference on the League of Nations in over 30 years; offered reflections on teaching human rights in post-9/11 world on the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks; and articulated the role humanists can play in the Scholars at Risk program. Referred to colloquially as “Eleanor,” Watenpaugh’s blog is featured among the top blogs happening now on the UC Davis campus.