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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the History of Cosmopolitanism



7 August 2012

The concept of human rights offers us all a dearly held vision of international justice, says Samuel Moyn, Professor of History at Columbia University. Yet, despite the Declaration of Human Rights being ratified in 1948, the concept on which the human rights movement is based became familiar only in the 1970s when it profoundly reshaped hopes for an improved humanity.

In his Sydney Ideas lecture, 'The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the History of Cosmopolitanism', to be held at the University of Sydney on Wednesday, 8 August, Professor Moyn will examine the transformation in our understandings of human rights.

Professor Moyn says, "No one around the world cared about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 when it was created, whereas now we do. And I try to figure out what this says about the past and about us.

"The main conclusion is that people in the 1940s were primarily committed to national welfare states - in which we have now lost faith and substituted the weaker, cheaper solidarity of 'international human rights'."

For some, the idea of human rights stretch back to the beginning of Western civilisation, the age of the American and French Revolutions, or the post-World War II moment when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was framed.

Professor Moyn's most recent book, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (2010), which has been described as the most important work on the history of human rights to be written, has shown that it was in the decade after 1968 that human rights began to make sense to broad communities of people as the proper cause of justice.

During this time, across eastern and western Europe, as well as throughout the United States and Latin America, human rights crystallised and moved from the confines of the United Nations to the forefront of mainstream consciousness.

Professor Moyn is a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), the recipient of Guggenheim and American Council of Learned Societies fellowships, and the winner of numerous prizes for teaching and research. He is currently the Irving S Ribicoff Visiting Professor of Law at Yale University, has lectured at the Columbia Law School and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, and will teach at Harvard Law School in 2013.

Moyn's Sydney Ideas lecture is co-presented with the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights at the University of Sydney.

Event details

What:The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the History of Cosmopolitanism, a Sydney Ideas lecture by Professor Samuel Moyn

When: 6 to 7pm, Wednesday 8 August

Where: Lecture Theatre 101, New Law Building, Camperdown Campus. See map and directions

Cost: This event is free and open to all, with no ticket or booking required. Seating is unreserved and entry is on a first come, first served basis.

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Contact: Jacqueline Chowns

Phone: 02 9036 5404, 0434 605 018

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