Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST20H1: International Human Rights since 1945

Department: History

HIST20H1: International Human Rights since 1945

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least ONE level one module in History.


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To develop the conceptual tools to critique claims made for and about human rights
  • To give a broad understanding of the role of human rights idea in international affairs since 1945


  • Human rights has become the universal language of idealism today. Virtually all claims for justice and human betterment, from LGBTQI non-discrimination to the status of women, are now framed in the idiom of universal human rights. Yet when the United Nations approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, few people other than international lawyers took notice, and the UN abjured all efforts at enforcing its provisions. In the 1970s, human rights unexpectedly became a rallying cry for major non-governmental organizations like Amnesty International and a widely accepted criterion of many governments’ foreign-policy decision-making. In the 1990s, as the Cold War ended, many in the West were convinced that human rights would finally achieve ascendancy in world affairs, only to find their hopes crushed as genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in the Yugoslav wars were met with little response. This module examines the rise and, arguably, impending fall of ideas about universal human rights in international relations since 1945. Coverage is global but with an emphasis on the role of the United States, both as mobilizer and impediment. We cover the range of claims that have been swept into the rights rubric, from anti-colonialism to refugee issues; clarify its relationship to other political ideologies such as liberalism and conservatism; and gain an introduction to vigorous debates over the value and efficacy of this idealism.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • a broad understanding of the role of human rights ideas in international affairs since 1945, particularly the role of the United States
  • an interdisciplinary understanding of the claims embedded in international human rights law and practice and how and why they achieved this status
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Building on and developing skills gained at Level 1
  • Deepening and extending historical understanding through focused, concentrated modules
  • Developing precision, depth of understanding, and conceptual awareness
Key Skills:
  • The ability to employ sophisticated reading skills to gather, sift, process, synthesise and critically evaluate information from a variety of sources (print, digital, material, aural, visual, audio-visual etc.)
  • The ability to communicate ideas and information orally and in writing, devise and sustain coherent and cogent arguments
  • The ability to write and think under pressure, manage time and work to deadlines
  • The ability to make effective use of information and communications technology.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Student learning is facilitated by a combination of the following teaching methods:
  • lectures to set the foundations for further study and to provide the basis for the acquisition of subject specific knowledge. Lectures provide a broad framework which defines individual module content, introducing students to themes, debates and interpretations. In this environment, students are given the opportunity to develop skills in listening, selective note-taking and reflection;
  • seminars to allow students to present and critically reflect upon the acquired subject-specific knowledge, methodologies and theories, and to identify and debate a range of issues and differing opinions. The seminar is the forum in which students are given the opportunity to communicate ideas, jointly exploring themes and arguments. Seminars are structured to develop understanding and designed to maximise student participation related to prior independent preparation. Seminars give students the opportunity to develop oral communication skills, encourage critical and tolerant approaches to reasoned argument and historical discussion, build the students' ability to marshal historical evidence, and facilitate the development of the ability to summarise historical arguments, think in a rapidly changing environment and communicate in a persuasive and articulate manner, whilst recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals.
  • Assessment:
  • Students will be examined on subject specific knowledge;
  • Summative essays remain a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills they develop. Essays allow students the opportunity to recognise, represent and critically reflect upon ideas, concepts and problems; students can demonstrate awareness of, and the ability to use and evaluate, a diverse range of resources and identify, represent and debate a range of subject-specific issues and opinions. Through the essay, students can synthesise information, adopt critical appraisals and develop reasoned argument based on individual research; they should be able to communicate ideas in writing, with clarity and coherence; and to show the ability to integrate and critically assess material from a wide range of sources. The additional summative assignments will test knowledge and skills specific to the module, such as analysis of relevant primary sources, or critical engagement with the historiography as demonstrated through book reviews and article abstracts.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 16 16 in Term 1 1 hour 16
Seminars 7 Term 1 1 hour 7
Preparation and Reading 177
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 75%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 100%
Component: Assignment Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Assignment or assignments 1,000 words total, not including footnotes and bibliography where relevant 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative benefits from the 1,000 word summative assignment and from work done during and in preparation for seminars.

â–  Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University