History 101.021

Spring 2008
Instructor (text): 
3104 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
MW 9:30-11
Caroline Shaw is a PhD Candidate in British and European History at UC Berkeley. Her research focuses on British involvement in refugee crises in the 19th century and the concept of refuge in the humanitarian repertoire of a modern, liberal state and its empire.

Walk through Sproul Plaza and you will be greeted with petitions to sign and causes to rally for, or to rally against. These demands on our sympathy hardly seem out of place. We are expected to feel and, hopefully, to agitate for the political rights of peoples remote from ourselves, to campaign to eradicate hunger or to assist the victims of natural disasters. This was not always the case, however. As historian Lynn Hunt has recently argued, the ";self-evident truths"; that individuals are entitled to life, liberty, and happiness were anything but ";self-evident"; two hundred years ago (Hunt: Inventing Human Rights, 19ff). It was not until the 18th century that what historians have called a revolution in sentiment made broad-based agitation to eradicate the suffering of others possible.

This seminar will challenge students to consider the historical evolution of humanitarian sentiment on a broad scale in class and in detail through independent research on a topic of the student's choice. As a class we will consider questions such as the following: What creates sympathy? How do you go from local rights and sympathies to abstract or universal rights? When do these humanitarian impulses translate into action? Given the uncompromising character of these moral claims, how did they fare when confronted with the limits of an imperfect world?

The first few weeks of the seminar will introduce these questions and focus on the ways in which other historians have provided answers. We will also use this time to discuss how to approach primary documents, as well as general research strategies. Initial readings for this seminar will focus on debates in the British and Western European fields. The import of these readings, however, is global. Students with other geographic interests are welcome to join the class.

All students are encouraged to brainstorm specific research topic ideas prior to the beginning of the semester. Within the first month, students will be expected to have defined a narrow topic through which they will reflect on the course's broader themes and produce an original research paper of 30-50 pages. Topics should be constrained to a particular location, time frame and aspect of humanitarian activity or human rights agitation. Students may choose to look at a single issue over a period of time, or a range of issues through a single event.