Bard College Catalogue

The Bard College Catalogue contains detailed descriptions of the College's undergraduate programs and courses, curriculum, admission and financial aid procedures, student activities and services, history, campus facilities, affiliated institutions including graduate programs, and faculty and administration.

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Bard College Catalogue 2013-14

Bard College Catalogue 2013-14

Human Rights


Thomas Keenan and Peter Rosenblum (directors), Roger Berkowitz, Ian Buruma, Nicole Caso, Christian Crouch, Mark Danner, Omar G. Encarnación, Helen Epstein, Tabetha Ewing, Kenneth Haig, Laura Kunreuther, Susan Merriam, Gregory B. Moynahan, Michelle Murray, Gilles Peress, Dina Ramadan, John Ryle, Eric Trudel, Robert Weston


Human Rights is a transdisciplinary program across the arts, social sciences, and ­literature. It offers courses that explore fundamental theoretical questions, historical and empirical issues within the disciplines, and practical and legal strategies of human rights advocacy. Students are encouraged to treat human rights as an intellectual question, challenge human rights orthodoxies, and think critically about human rights as a discourse rather than merely training for it as a profession.


Students moderate into the Human Rights Program alone or in combination with another program (usually through a joint Moderation), by fulfilling the other program’s requirements and the following program requirements. All students must anchor their studies of human rights in a disciplinary focus program of their choice (e.g., anthropology, sociology, economics, etc.). Prior to or concurrent with Moderation, students are required to take at least three of the core courses, one additional course in human rights, and two courses in the disciplinary focus program. Following Moderation, students take at least three additional four-credit courses in human rights, at least one of these at the 300 level; the junior research seminar (Human Rights 303); and an advanced course in the disciplinary focus program. The final requirement is completion of a Senior Project related to human rights.

Recent Senior Projects in Human Rights

  • “The Call for Critical Responsibility: Theoretical Suggestions for Practical Human Rights Discourses and Strategies”
  • “Captivity of the Mind: Education and Incarceration in America”
  • “The Heart of Light: Rights, Justice, and Representations of History and Conflict in the Congo”  

Internships and Affiliated Programs

Students are encouraged to undertake summer internships and participate in programs off campus, including the Bard Globalization and Inter­national Affairs Program; Central European University; Smolny College; American  University of Central Asia; Al-Quds Bard Honors College for Arts and Sciences; and Bard College Berlin: A Liberal Arts University.


Core courses include Human Rights 101, Introduction to Human Rights; Human Rights 120, Human Rights Law and Practice; Human Rights 218, Free Speech; Human Rights 233, Problems in Human Rights; Human Rights 235, Dignity and the Human Rights Tradition; Human Rights 241, Law and Society: Constitutions. Additional core courses offered through other fields of study include Anthropology 261, Anthro­pology of Violence and Suffering; Art History 289, Rights and the Image; History 2631, Capitalism and Slavery; History 2702, Liberty, National Rights, and Human Rights; Political Studies 145, Human Rights in Global Politics; Political Studies 231, Humanitarian Military Intervention; and Spanish 240, Testi­monial Literature

Introduction to Human Rights
Human Rights 101
What are humans and what are rights? Students consider the foundations of rights claims; legal and violent ways of advancing, defending, and enforcing rights; documents and institutions of the human rights movement; and the questionable reality of human rights in our world. Readings are drawn from Hannah Arendt, Nuruddin Farah, Michael Ignatieff, Kant, David Rieff, and Rousseau, as well as Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Human Rights Law and Practice
Human Rights 120
n the last decades, human rights has come to occupy a powerful space in international law, political rhetoric, activism, and the news cycle. When and why did that come about? What other options did it displace? In an attempt to answer these questions, the course combines an inquiry into the historical and theoretical underpinnings of human rights with case studies that introduce the issues, actors, institutions, and laws that constitute the contemporary practice of human rights.

Constitutional Law
Human Rights 134 / Political Studies 134
See Political Studies 134 for a full course description. 

Free Speech
Human Rights 218 / Literature 218
This course explores the intersection of literature and human rights, from the Greeks to hate speech on the Internet. What is freedom of speech? Where did it come from? What does it have to do with literature? These questions are examined across a variety of literary, philosophical, legal, and political texts.

1945, or the End of Wars
Human Rights 225
How do countries recover from destruction and catastrophe? This course focuses on the immediate postwar period but draws parallels to current events. Topics range from the urge to wreak revenge on former enemies (and the use of war crime tribunals to contain such emotions) to such idealistic ventures as the United Nations. These subjects inform today’s hottest debates: the use of war to change political institutions, the role of culture in democracy, and universalist assumptions about human rights.

Reconsidering Empire
Human Rights 228
This course considers different models of imperialism, from the Roman Empire to the informal U.S. empire of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In addition to providing historical perspective, the course challenges the assumption that human rights are always best protected by democratic independent nation-states. Could it be that the dark elements of imperialism have obscured political models that are more liberal than many democracies? Texts include fiction (Kipling, Roth), histories (Gibbon, Cannadine, Mazower), and films (Ivan the Terrible).

From Retribution to Justice
Human Rights 231
With a special focus on the Middle East, the course considers a variety of texts that illustrate the history of the ideas of justice and vengeance as well as the political and legal emergence of international criminal justice. Readings begin with the Old Testament and continue through 19th- and 20th-century attempts to elaborate different codes of conduct in war and conflict.

Problems in Human Rights
Human Rights 233 / Anthropology 233
This course looks at current issues such as slavery, genocide, body modification, and the rights of children and animals, and examines how human rights researchers deal with practical difficulties and ethical challenges posed by other cultures.

Dignity and Human Rights Traditions: A New Law on Earth
Human Rights 235
cross-listed: political studies
Lawyers in Germany and South Africa are developing a “dignity jurisprudence” that might guarantee human rights on the foundation of human dignity. Is it possible to develop a secular and legal idea of dignity that can offer grounds for human rights?

Never Again
Human Rights 239
“Never Again” were the words on a sign put up at the main gate of Buchenwald after the camp was liberated. Even in 1945, genocide was recognized as such a heinous crime that new conventions and laws had to be devised. This course looks at the genocide convention, United Nations charter, and war crime tribunals, as well as consequences of the post–World War II human rights regime. These histories inform current debates on intervention by outside powers in the Middle East and other areas threatened with serious domestic violence

Rights and the City: Topics in Human Rights and Urbanism
Human Rights 240 / Art History 240
See Art History 240 for a full course description.

Law and Society: Constitutions
Human Rights 241 
The constitution stands at the intersection of law and society. It is a basic law, social contract, statement of aspirations, and road map for ­governance. While constitutionalism has been a feature of the modern state for several centuries, witten constitutions with elaborate human rights provisions enforced by “courts” are a recent innovation. The class looks at the theory and practice of constitutionalism across different regions, and at the peculiar role of the U.S. Constitution.

Reproductive Health and Human Rights
Human Rights 244 
cross-listed: gss
Topics addressed include population growth and family planning, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, prostitution and sex trafficking, maternal mortality, gender violence, female genital mutilation, abortion, and LGBT rights. Emphasis is placed on how public policies concerning these issues have evolved over time in relation to historical events such as the Cold War, decolonization, immigration, and changing attitudes to the family.

Child Survival
Human Rights 261 
cross-listed: gis
In Africa, Asia, and Latin America, some nine million children under five die annually, the vast majority from causes that cost pennies to prevent or cure. Why are child death rates still so high, and what is the international community doing about this calamity? This course describes efforts past and present by governments, health agencies, and foundations to ­prevent child deaths around the world, and explores why some efforts have been more successful than others.

Capitalism and Slavery
Human Rights 2631 / History 2631
See History 2631 for a full course description.

Equality and American Democracy
Human Rights 281 / Political Studies 281
See Political Studies 281 for a full course description.

Research in Human Rights
Human Rights 303
What is it to do research in the field of human rights? What are the relevant methods and tools? How do political and ethical considerations enter into the conduct of research? The seminar explores a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to the field, reading a variety of examples across an interdisciplinary perspective.

Humanitarian Action
Human Rights 314
cross-listed: gis
This seminar explores humanitarian action from the founding of the Red Cross in 1863 to the contemporary explosion of nongovernmental relief organizations. Central categories in humanitarian discourse—neutrality, emergency, testimony, and refugee—are addressed, with particular attention to recent crises in Rwanda, Bosnia, Chechnya, and Darfur, among others.

Persons and Things
Human Rights 318
The course explores the question of personhood in law, aesthetics, and culture. The fragility of the boundary between persons and things is a recurring structure in the history of human rights. How do persons become things, and vice versa? How can things have rights, and how do they claim and exercise them? Topics considered: the legal definition of “person,” “illegal”/undocumented aliens, reification and anthropomorphism, personhood as property, and Internet avatars. Texts by Ovid, Locke, Kleist, Hawthorne, Heidegger, Baudelaire, Lacan, Plath, Harriet Jacobs, and others.

Theories of Human Rights
Human Rights 328
cross-listed: philosophy
The emphasis of this course is on acquiring the skills and the ear to ask a variant of Nietzsche’s question: What is the value of the value of human rights? The readings are drawn almost exclusively from the works of Nietzsche, Foucault, and Derrida.

Is “Perpetual Peace” Sustainable?
Human Rights 334 / Philosophy 334
Immanuel Kant sketched a framework for national, international, and cosmopolitan law and made the case for a world court. This course studies Kant’s essay on perpetual peace to clarify the court’s conceptual framework. Students examine how and why sustainable peace depends both on the juridical process and on rights such as free speech and migration. They identify assumptions on which the legal reasoning rests, and analyze how Kant’s principles are mobilized in contemporary discussions. For example: Why intervene in Libya and not Syria? What can be learned from the European sovereign debt crisis?.

Indigenous Rights and Biohistory of the Amerindians
Human Rights 336
An examination of the history of the Amerindians, the original inhabitants of the Americas before 1491. The course begins by looking at what the New World was like at the time of Columbus. Who lived here? And how did it happen that, in a short period of time, a few Spanish conquistadores could wipe out millions of people living in prosperous, well-organized megacities? Also addressed is the recent history of native Amerindians in the Amazon.

Epidemiology: A Human Rights Perspective
Human Rights 337 / Biology 337
See Biology 337 for a full course description

Human Rights in the Global Economy
Human Rights 338 
cross-listed: economics, gis
The modern human rights movement emerged at the end of the Cold War with a focus on states and an arsenal appropriate for responding to civil and political repression. Economic and social rights were acknowledged in law, but overlooked in practice. The transformation of the global economy since the Cold War has resulted in new awareness and new tactics. The course explores current work that addresses particular sectors (consumer goods, natural resource extraction), issues (child labor, women’s empowerment), and regions (Africa).

Counterinsurgency, Law, and the Colonial Legacy
Human Rights 341
This seminar focuses on the trickle-down effects of British colonial law and politics in the contemporary world of policing and counterinsurgency by focusing on two case studies: Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine. Students study the impact of a tradition accumulated through British colonial and imperial attitudes from the 19th century to the present. Researching the legal frameworks as well as the practices documented in British imperial antiterrorism manuals, students examine divide-and-conquer strategy; laws of exception; and the shoot-to-kill policy and its incarnations.

Portraits of Evil: Dictator, Autocrat, Caudillo
Human Rights 342 
cross-listed: gis, literature
Even today, in great swaths of our world, politics revolves around the power of the “Big Man”: dictator, supreme leader, party boss. This seminar looks at how political power (especially ­personalized power) works and how powerful politicians and autocrats have been analyzed and depicted in literature. Texts include Plutarch and Suetonius on Julius Caesar, Trollope’s The Prime Minister, Asturias’s El Señor Presidente, and works by Vargas Llosa, Malaparte, Mahfouz, Carpentier, Penn Warren, Nabokov, El Saadawi, and Garcia Márquez.

Empathy, Photography, and Human Rights
Human Rights 343
This course explores the ways in which empathy has played a defining role in the establishment of human rights, both as consciousness and law. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the notion of empathy was increasingly expressed and formalized through the usage of photography. But within the postmodernist framework of writers like Susan Sontag and Ingrid Sischy, the process of empathy through photography is being challenged, creating a conundrum of representation at the heart of the human rights and humanitarian movements

Rereading The Family of Man
Human Rights 412
Ever since its inaugural exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955, the photographs in The Family of Man have been a topic of fascination and debate, critique, and enthusiasm. The seminar explores the images and the debates in order to reexamine the exhibit as a sort of archive of the human rights imagination, and to investigate the powerful relation between contemporary human rights discourse and the photographic image.