Human Rights & the Humanities Week Begins March 5th

Although “basic” human rights may appear to be a straightforward concept, the subject can be understood in many ways and from different perspectives. And that is, in part, why the UC Davis Human Rights Initiative will take a historical approach to the topic in its 2nd Annual Symposium on Human Rights, a day-long colloquium that brings together scholars from around the globe and across the disciplines to discuss the future of human rights. The symposium, set for March 9th in the Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center, represents the culmination of a week-long series of events, beginning March 5th, that make up UC Davis’s first Human Rights and Humanities Week. Throughout the week, UC Davis’s Human Rights Initiative will host an array of lectures and colloquiums on the dynamics of suffering, justice, and power in society.

“Some of the most important work being done today on human rights is being done by humanities scholars,” according to Keith Watenpaugh, an historian of the Modern Middle East who teaches in the Religious Studies Program and directs the Human Rights Initiative. He believes that UC Davis is on the leading edge of human rights in the humanities. The Human Rights Initiative grew out of a $25,000 grant Watenpaugh received last spring from the UC Davis Academic Senate’s Committee on Research. Though that was the seed money for the week’s events, Watenpaugh has received additional support and sponsorship from many partners including the Office of the Provost, the Center for Regional Change, the UC Davis Humanities Institute, and the Cultural Studies Graduate Group. The diversity and array of events across Human Rights and Humanities Week is a testament to the strong campus investment in the study of human rights.

“Humanists should not simply write about the past; we must help shape the future,” says Watenpaugh. The week’s activities promise to point out the many ways human rights saturates the work of humanities scholars.

The week begins on Monday, March 5th, with the Provost’s Lecture in Human Rights featuring Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director, Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. Whitson will give a talk titled, “At last, an Arab Spring: Black Swans of the Middle East Human Rights Watch Reports from the Ground” from 7:30-9:00 p.m. in the AGR room of the Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center.

The role of the environment in human rights will be the topic of discussion on Wednesday, March 7th, when the Environments & Societies Mellon Research Initiative discusses the work of Richard Hiskes, political theorist and Associate Director of the University of Connecticut Human Rights Center. Hiskes’s paper “The Relational Foundations of Emergent Environmental Rights: From Hobbes to Human Rights to Water” will be the topic of discussion when the group meets in Voorhies 126 from 4 – 6 p.m., and a pre-circulated copy of the paper can be found online.

Graduate student work on human rights takes center stage on Thursday, March 8th, at the Graduate Student Symposium on “Human Rights in the Aftermath.” Organized by Andrea Dooley, a Ph.D. candidate in cultural studies, and Katherine Unger, a Ph.D. candidate in political science, the symposium showcases the work of the Humanities Institute’s Dissertation Year Fellows Vivian Choi and Matthew Russell along with graduate students from Ireland, Japan, and around the United States.

John Erni, Chair of Cultural Studies at Lingan University, Hong Kong, will provide the keynote address for the graduate symposium on “Cultural Studies and Human Rights.” His talk will complement the day’s activities by highlighting how important human rights questions have become for interdisciplinary scholars around the globe. This talk, which is also part of the Cultural Studies Colloquium Series, runs from 4 – 6 p.m. in the Andrews Conference Room, Social Sciences and Humanities Building 2203.

The week closes with a faculty symposium “Contested Histories of Human Rights” featuring scholars that think beyond narrow definitions of human rights and historicize these conflicted histories. These events run all day Friday, March 9th, in the Founders Room of the Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center.

The Human Rights and the Humanities Week marks the start of a sustained engagement with human rights at UC Davis.  In addition to strengthening the new Human Rights Minor and publishing a new undergraduate-run journal on human rights, the Human Rights Initiative is developing a graduate Designated Emphasis in Human Rights, hosting a faculty seminar at the UC Davis Humanities Institute in Fall 2012 and working with scholars at several other UCs to develop a proposal for a multi-campus research group on Human Rights and the Humanities.

Come join the conversation during this vibrant week of events organized in collaboration with the Academic Senate, Davis Humanities Institute, Center for Regional Change, Office of the Provost, Graduate Group in Cultural Studies, and the Mellon Initiative in Environments & Societies.