Quellenzur Geschichte derMenschenrechte

Key documents on the History of Human Rights

About the Project

Recent research has fundamentally altered our understanding of the rise of human rights to one of the key terms in political communication in the 20th century. The canon of documents found in conventional edited volumes published to date, however, are inadequate to explain this development. This project, therefore, offers a new selection of important texts for our understanding of the history of human rights. 

The collection of commentaries on key documents of human rights history contains texts that exemplify a specific way in which the language of human rights has been used in different contexts. The impact of a given source is not the sole determining criteria. Some of the key texts may represent an abandoned tradition of human rights politics or even oppose the practice of human rights. This project aims to select documents representing the entire spectrum of relevant actors, discourses, and contexts in which human rights have been utilized.

Some of the canonical documents, however, have had a lasting impact on human rights policies, and therefore, with good reason, have traditionally been included in source collections related to human rights. Accordingly, they are also included in this collection of commentaries. However, it offers new insights into these documents by analyzing them on the basis of new approaches—for example postcolonial studies or global history.

Each source is introduced with a short description. The commentary that follows contextualizes and explains the document’s origins; it examines the document’s reception and summarizes –if available – the research to date. The source itself is provided with an annotated bibliography containing comments on individual terms, dates or names. Texts that were not officially authored in English or German, have been translated.

Given that the historicization of human rights is itself in flux, the project is not intended simply to be a self-contained collection of texts. Rather, it utilizes the opportunities provided by its publication online to continuously expand and enhance the project’s body of sources, taking new research into account. The members in the Study Group Human Rights in the 20th Century are responsible for the selection of texts and the accompanying commentary.