Bard College Catalogue

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Bard College Catalogue 2017-18

Bard College Catalogue 2017-18

Human Rights


Thomas Keenan (director), Roger Berkowitz, Ian Buruma, Nicole Caso, Christian Crouch, Mark Danner, Omar G. Encarnación, Helen Epstein, Tabetha Ewing, Nuruddin Farah, Laura Kunreuther, Susan Merriam, Gregory B. Moynahan, Michelle Murray, Gilles Peress, Dina Ramadan, Peter Rosenblum, John Ryle, Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins, Drew Thompson, Éric Trudel, Robert Weston, Ruth Zisman


Human Rights is an interdisciplinary program spanning the arts, natural and social sciences, and languages and literature. Human Rights courses explore fundamental conceptual questions, historical and empirical issues within the disciplines, and practical and legal strategies of human rights advocacy. Students are encouraged to approach human rights in a spirit of open inquiry, to challenge orthodoxies, to confront ideas with reality and vice versa, and to think critically about human rights as a field of knowledge 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, whether joint or stand-alone majors, must anchor their studies of human rights in a disciplinary focus program of their choice (e.g., anthropology, biology, art, history, etc.). Prior to or concurrent with Moderation, students are required to take at least three human rights core courses, one additional course in human rights, and two courses in the disciplinary focus program. Following Moderation, students take at least three additional 4-credit courses in human rights, at least one of these at the 300 level; the junior research seminar (Human Rights 303); and two further courses, including one at the 300 level in the disciplinary focus -program. The final requirement is completion of a Senior Project related to human rights. To concentrate in the Human Rights Program, students must take two core courses and three additional elective courses, including at least one at the 300 level.

Recent Senior Projects in Human Rights

  • “Anwar al-Awlaki: A Life and Death in Images”
  • “Before the Earth Is Hollow: The Case of Land and Oil on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation”
  • “Mothers of the Fire: A Study of Women in the Chechen Wars”

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 College for Arts and Sciences, and Bard College Berlin.


Core courses include Human Rights 101, Introduction to Human Rights; Human Rights 120, Human Rights Law and Practice; Human Rights 213, Gay Rights, Human Rights; Human Rights 218, Free Speech; Human Rights 226, Women’s Rights, Human Rights; Human Rights 233, Problems in Human Rights; Human Rights 234, Defining the Human; Human Rights 235, Dignity and the Human Rights Tradition; Human Rights 241, Law and Society: Constitutions; Human Rights 2509, Telling Stories about Rights; Human Rights 257, Human Rights and the Economy; and Human Rights 316, History of Human Rights. Additional core courses offered through other fields of study include Anthropology 261, Anthropology of Violence and Suffering; Art History 289, Rights and the Image; GIS 231, Humanitarian Military Intervention; History 2631, Capitalism and Slavery; and Spanish 240, Testimonies of Latin America.

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
In recent 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 actors, institutions, and laws that constitute the contemporary practice of human rights.

Seeing the Twilight War: Human Rights and the 9/11 State of Emergency
Human Rights 203
For more than a decade, Americans have been living in a state of exception: a constitutional dictatorship where human rights have been routinely circumscribed. In Abu Ghraib and in “black site” prisons around the world, American interrogators have tortured prisoners on the orders of American leaders. In Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, unmanned drones have killed, without warrant or due process, about 5,000 people. The class looks at this post-9/11 “new normal” and seeks to understand how it came to be, why it was accepted, and how long it might endure.

Gay Rights, Human Rights
Human Rights 213
cross-listed: gss
An in-depth survey of historical and contemporary struggles for LGBT rights, including the right to association, repeal of antisodomy statutes, privacy rights, equal protection, military service, employment discrimination, same-sex marriage, adoption rights, and transgender rights around restroom access and incarceration. The course focuses on LGBT rights in the United States, but broader contexts in American history and international human rights law are also considered.

Free Speech
Human Rights 218 / Literature 218
What is “freedom of speech”? Is there a right to say anything? Why? This course investigates who has had this right, where it came from, and what it has to do with literature and the arts. Debates about censorship, hate speech, the First Amendment, and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are starting points, but less obvious questions—about faith and the secular, confession and torture, and surveillance—are also explored.

Queer Subjects of Desire
Human Rights 221
cross-listed: gss
Over the past two decades, debates between proponents of gay and lesbian studies and proponents of queer theory have proliferated into a rich array of subfields in gender and sexuality research. In this course, students engage in core debates that are shaping the widening field of sexuality studies. Approaches addressed may include the subject of desire, psychoanalysis, gender theory, feminism, homosexuality and the law, ethnosexualities, sexuality and race, and transgender.

Epidemiology: A Human Rights Perspective
Human Rights 223
cross-listed: biology
Epidemiologists study how diseases spread through populations. They track down the sources of outbreaks, explore trends, and try to understand the social forces that influence sexual behavior, weight gain, and other complex human phenomena. Epidemiology can also serve as a powerful forensic tool in the hands of rights activists. Students learn how studies are designed and carried out, generate hypotheses about the underlying causes of diseases, and discover how the presentation of data and the design of studies can affect our understanding of the human condition.

Women’s Rights, Human Rights
Human Rights 226
cross-listed: gss
Following an overview of first-wave feminism, the course engages students with second-wave feminism, including the critical appropriations and contestations of Marxism, structuralism, and psychoanalysis that were characteristic of post-1968 feminist theory; poststructuralist theories of sexual difference; écriture féminine; ’70s debates surrounding the NOW and ERA movements; and issues of race and class at the center of third-wave feminism.

Human Rights and Democracy in Contemporary Russia
Human Rights 229
This course seeks to understand how human rights have fallen off the popular agenda in Russia. Students also explore human rights in the post-Soviet space, including Crimea.

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.

Defining the Human
Human Rights 234 
cross-listed: anthropology, philosophy
At least since Aristotle, philosophers have sought to define what it means to be a specifically human being. In this course, students engage with a range of theoretical discussions that attempt to situate the human being vis-à-vis its “other,” traditionally as a kind of intermediary being, poised uncomfortably between ­animality, on the one hand, and divinity, on the other. Readings may include: Aristotle, Hobbes, La Rochefoucauld, Mandeville, La Mettrie, Rousseau, Kant, Schiller, Spencer, Marx, Nietzsche, Bergson, Bataille, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze, Derrida, and Foucault.

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?

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.

Arguing with the Supreme Court (about Rights)
Human Rights 242
Supreme Court arguments bring to bear a vast range of research and reflection on the law, policy, and politics of our society. Recent terms have included cases on health care, gay marriage, freedom of speech, religious freedom, and the place of race in education. This course digs deeply into seven cases: students listen to the Supreme Court argument, read and analyze background documents, and research the major arguments and actors.

Constitutional Law: Theory and Comparative Practice
Human Rights 243 / Political Studies 243
See Political Studies 243 for a full course description.

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 toward the family.

Humanism and Antihumanism in 20th-Century French Thought
Human Rights 245
cross-listed: french studies
What is the legacy of humanism in 20th-century French thought? The belief in its values was once so strong that humanism came to be equated with republicanism and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. And yet the humanists’ affirmation of the centrality of man came under attack throughout the century, under the influence of Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, ultimately to be denounced as nothing more than a construct of “petit bourgeois” ideology. This course surveys the ongoing and contentious debate.

Human Rights in Africa
Human Rights 246 
cross-listed: africana studies, gis
Africa has been central to the story of human rights from the colonial era to the present. It has been the site of atrocities as well as a testing ground for new forms of advocacy and new international mechanisms to relieve and redress past harm. This course explores sub-Saharan Africa through the lens of human rights, with a focus on South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kenya.

The Perversities of Power: Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy
Human Rights 247
Half a million people have died in Syria’s civil war. Does the United States, the world’s most powerful nation, have a responsibility to stop the killing? Scores of prisoners sit imprisoned in Guantanamo, having never been charged with a crime. Does the United States have the right to hold them? Our country is at once the leading force for the present human rights treaty regime and its most prominent violator. This course looks at the history of American power and its evolving relationship to human rights.

Telling Stories about Rights
Human Rights 2509 / Literature 2509
See Literature 2509 for a course description.

Donald Trump and His Antecedents
Human Rights 251
On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump became the president—the first with no prior experience in government, the military, or public service. Trump has drawn comparisons with past populist demagogic leaders, and his rise coincides with the resurgence of authoritarian leaders across the globe. Students read about the history of conservative, populist, authoritarian, fascist, and demagogic leaders with the aim of understanding the context in which such leaders emerge. At the same time, the class considers the first months of the Trump presidency.

War Crimes in Film
Human Rights 252 / Film 252
See Film 252 for a full course description.

Human Rights and the Economy
Human Rights 257
This course explores the history of “economic and social rights” before looking at efforts to bring human rights considerations into the project of development and use human rights in battles with investors and global corporations. Texts include works by Amartya Sen, Philip Alston, Peter Uvin, Jeffrey Sachs, Paul Collier, William Easterly, Abhijit Banerjee, and Esther Duflo; and case studies of activist engagements with Nike, Shell Oil, the World Bank, and others. Also considered is the United Nations’ engagement with business and human rights.

Child Survival and Human Rights
Human Rights 261
In Africa, Asia, and Latin America, some nine million children under age 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? The course describes efforts 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.

Research in Human Rights
Human Rights 303
What does it mean to do research in 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, with readings from a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives.

History of Human Rights
Human Rights 316
International human rights is both young and old: the core ideas stretch back to the Enlightenment, but the founders of the modern movement are just reaching retirement. And there is still considerable debate over what human rights is—a movement, an ideology, a set of laws? Texts by founding figures of the modern movement (Louis Henkin, Aryeh Neier); journalists (Adam Hochschild); and historians (Lynn Hunt, Samuel Moyn, Carol Anderson, Elizabeth Borgwardt, and Ken Cmiel.

Bad Is Stronger than Good
Human Rights 317 / Psychology 317
See Psychology 317 for a full course description.

Persons and Things
Human Rights 318
cross-listed: experimental humanitiesThe 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 include the legal definition of “person,” gender and personhood, “illegal”/undocumented aliens, structures of personification, slavery, reification, poetry and sculpture, personhood as property, social media and new forms of subjectivity, and the Pygmalion complex.

The Drone Revolution
Human Rights 319
Military commentators claim that drone technology could alter the character of war forever. On the home front, some see an $80 billion industry that will create 75,000 jobs and result in untold efficiencies. Peering into a future in which autonomous weapons systems target and kill without human intervention, and drone highways crisscross the American skies, this seminar equips students with the knowledge and analytic skills to judge whether we are indeed on the edge of “the drone revolution.”

Human Rights and Media
Human Rights 320
Representing suffering and injustice in visual terms has a long history, stretching back to Goya’s engravings of the Lisbon earthquake and a diagram of the slave ship Brookes. Today, human rights media ranges from documentary cinema and news reports to forensic evidence and online activist video. This seminar focuses on recent scholarship about human rights and media, films and video from and about the Syrian conflict, and visual artifacts themselves. Conducted in conjunction with a course at Al-Quds Bard in East Jerusalem.

Human Rights 3206
Evidence would seem to be a matter of facts, far from the realm of literary or artistic invention. But, whether as fact or fiction, we are regularly confronted by all sorts of signs and we need to learn how to read the traces of things left behind. This seminar explores the theory and practice of evidence, with special attention paid to the different forms evidence can take and the disputes to which it can give rise, especially when violations of, and claims for, human rights are at stake.

Race and the Pastoral
Human Rights 323
The course explores the meaning of the literary and cultural category of “pastoral.” Is it a mode, a genre, an affect, or something else? The same critical investigation applies to “race,” and to what race and the pastoral might have to do with one another. Readings include Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory; Nancy Duncan’s Landscapes of Privilege: The Politics of the Aesthetic in an American Surburb; Cheryl Harris’s Whiteness as Property; and selections from Theocritus, Longus, Milton, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Bacon, Kant, Emerson, Thoreau, Wharton, Olmsted, Sontag, and others.

The Rise of the Terror State: 9/11, the Arab Spring, and the End of the Postwar Order
Human Rights 327
How did declaring war on terror lead to the rise of the terror state? During the months between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, the phrase “constructive instability” was murmured among Bush administration strategists. Determined to take advantage of the “unipolar moment,” the administration launched its Iraq adventure with the ambition of destroying the old Middle East and building a new, American-friendly one in its place. A dozen years later, the region is in chaos. This seminar explores the consequences of “constructive instability” with an eye to U.S. policymaking under Bush and Obama.

Human Rights in the Global Economy
Human Rights 338
cross-listed: economics, gis
The transformation of the global economy since the end of the Cold War—including the increased importance of transnational trade, investment, and global corporations—forced human rights advocates to rethink their focus on the state. This course explores the history of the global corporation in relation to the rights of workers and citizens in the societies where they operate (case studies include the British East India Company, United Fruit Company, and the South African divestment campaign), as well as the rise of economic activism.

Photography and Human Rights
Human Rights 343
Human rights today is unthinkable apart from photography. Without photography—the vector by which NGOs generate knowledge, evidence, and funding, based on a sense of empathy and urgency—there would probably be fewer human rights and no humanitarian movement. Starting with historical accounts by Lynn Hunt and others, the class explores the ways in which visual appeals have played a defining role in the establishment of human rights, both as consciousness and as constitutional and international law.

Social Action: Theories and Practice
Human Rights 347
From the Millennium Development Goals to local community action projects, ordinary citizens around the world are unsatisfied with existing solutions to problems and seek to turn their complaints and critiques into positive proposals for change. Doing things ethically and effectively takes thought, pragmatic awareness, strategies, and skills. Students come away from this seminar with theoretical and practical tools for conceiving, designing, and evaluating ethical social and civic engagement.

Critical Human Rights Theory
Human Rights 349
The notion of universal human rights has become an unavoidable source for ethical and political thinking and practice—although a consensus over the meaning and application of human rights still eludes us. Notions bequeathed to us by the liberal and humanist traditions—the autonomous individual, the rational subject, citizenship, sovereignty, the rule of law—have been radically contested. This seminar engages with a new critical literature on human rights and assesses the implications of the “critical turn” for the practice of human rights.

Anti-Semitism: Anatomy of Hatred
Human Rights 350
cross-listed: jewish studies
For as long as there have been human beings, there has been hatred, and anti-Semitism is one of its oldest and most persistent forms. What is anti-Semitism, and how has it manifested itself in different eras, regions, and cultures? What insights can we gain about other forms of hatred (homophobia, racism, Islamophobia) from the study of anti-Semitism? Readings include selections from contemporary experts; historical figures such as Peter Stuyvesant, George Washington, and Adolf Hitler; religious figures; newspaper articles and social media postings; and Nazi and neo-Nazi literature.

Rights, Space, and Politics in Refugee Camps
Human Rights 352
cross-listed: mes
The year 2015 marked the highest refugee population ever registered: 60 million people. As the refugees able to return to their countries are always fewer than those who leave, it is useful to consider refugee camps as complex urban structures—neither cities nor temporary encampments. The course tries to make sense of this new urban reality, using Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank as a principal site of investigation for understanding how collective spaces are produced in the absence of state structures and how these spaces are politicized for affirming rights beyond the nation-state.

Scholars at Risk
Human Rights 355
Scholars, students, and other researchers around the world are routinely threatened, jailed, or punished. This seminar explores the idea of academic freedom by examining—and attempting to intervene in—situations where it is threatened. In conjunction with the human rights organization Scholars at Risk (SAR), the class investigates cases of scholars currently living under threat and develops projects aimed at releasing them from detention or securing refuge for them. This involves hands-on advocacy work with SAR.

Rereading The Family of Man
Human Rights 412
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.