Do Rights Belong in the Classroom?
February 18, 2009
By Robin Kirk
The history of what is studied in universities is long and abundant in controversy. In his old age, Plato once complained that his star student, Aristotle, was “kick[ing] me, as foals do their mothers when they are born” by refuting his teachings.
In more recent times, we’ve seen battles erupt over area, gender and ethnic studies. Some lament a perceived eclipse in traditional disciplines like history and philosophy. Others argue for an expanded and shifting menu that includes new subcategories that reflect the emerging regions or issues of the moment.
One newcomer that hasn’t generated much talk is human rights. I teach a course (full disclosure here) at Duke University that begins with Homer’s account of how Achilles desecrated Hector’s body during the Trojan War and the nearly 1,200-page letter indigenous Peruvian writer Guamán Poma de Ayala wrote to Spain’s King Phillip III. The letter contains 398 line drawings, many depicting the killings and acts of torture by conquistadores that Poma de Ayala asked the king to halt.
You can read the entire article in global-e, a Global Studies newsletter.
Kirk is a visiting lecturer at Duke University and coordinator of the Duke Human Rights Center. She blogs at Talking Rights.