Select Page

Masterclass Samuel Moyn (Columbia University), 1 October 2013

Human Rights in History

Date: 1 October 2013
Time: 10.00-13.00 hrs
Venue: University of Amsterdam, PCH 459, P.C. Hoofthuis, Spuistraat 134, Amsterdam
Credits: 1 ECTS (available upon request)
Open to: PhD candidates and Research Master students registered with the Huizinga Institute, or with another Graduate Research School in the Netherlands
Fee (non-members): €50
Coordinated by: Maarten van den Bos in cooperation with the Huizinga Institute
Registration: Maximum participants: 15 Register here 
Register before: 20 September 2013

Note: attendance at prof. Moyn’s keynote lecture on September 30, 2013, during the KNHG conference Samuel Moyn and the quest for a holistic history of Human Rights, 1945-present at the Royal Library in The Hague, is required.

Human Rights in History
This class will be dedicated to the recent history of Human Rights and its implications on modern intellectual, cultural and political history. The last couple of years, many books have been published on the postwar history of Human Rights. Especially Samuel Moyn’s contribution has made some challenging points. The modern concept of human rights, he says, differs radically from older claims of rights, like those that arose out of the French Revolution. According to Moyn, Human Rights in their current form can be traced neither nor to the Enlightenment, nor to the humanitarian impulses of the 19th century nor to the impact of the Holocaust after World War II. Instead he sees them as dating from the 1970s, exemplified by the efforts of the Carter presidency to make human rights a pillar of United States foreign policy and the Helsinki Accords.

These claims have broader implications than the history of Human Rights alone. Especially in the Netherlands, the history of Human Rights is a very specialized field that consists of mostly lawyers, anthropologists and International Relations scholars. They have focused extensively on the response of the Dutch government to violations by other countries. What is missing so far is a more comprehensive and interdisciplinary narrative. Therefore we are inviting PhD candidates and Research Master students that are working in recent political, cultural or intellectual history to try to formulate a response on Moyn’s thesis using their own expertise on Dutch or international history.

This masterclass is offered in combination with prof. Moyn’s keynote-lecture at the conference Beyond Merchant and Missionary on 30 September, at the Royal Library in The Hague. Attendance at this conference is required. More information on the website.

Samuel Moyn is James Bryce Professor of European Legal History at Columbia University in New York. Professor Moyn works primarily on modern European intellectual history – with special interest in France and Germany, political and legal thought, historical and critical theory and Jewish studies – and on the history of human rights. In 2010 he published his challenging book The Last Utopia. Human Rights in History which provoked a lot of intellectual controversy in the United States as well as in Europe. Next year he will publish a volume titled Human Rights and the Uses of History.

This event is organised by the Huizinga Institute in cooperation with the Royal Dutch History Association and the School of Human Rights Research.


09:45 – doors open, coffee & tea
10:00 – Introduction by Dr. Maarten van den Bos
10:10 – Short presentation by Prof. Dr. Samuel Moyn
10:30 – Questions
11:00 – coffee & tea break
11:15 – Discussion
13:00 – End Masterclass & lunch (included)

Preparation and readings
Every participant should read the material below. PhD candidates are asked to also prepare a one page summary of their own research that ends with a question, hypothesis or complement on Moyn’s thesis. For ReMa students, this assignment is voluntary. The time for discussion will be used to debate the questions and remarks of the participants. When asked, you should be able to present your summary in a short talk (max. 5 min) during the masterclass.
Please send your summaries in advance to Maarten van den Bos ( and the Huizinga Institute ( Deadline: Friday 20 September, 17:00 hrs.

Required reading

  • Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia. Human Rights in History (Cambridge, ma 2010) 1-11, 120-175 and 212-213. (Note: it is recommended, but not mandatory, to read the other chapters as well.)

Suggested reading

  • Samuel Moyn, ‘Human Rights in History. Human Rights emerged not in the 1940s but the 1970s, and on the ruins of prior dreams’, The Nation, August 30, 2010.
  • Samuel Moyn, ‘Imperialism, Self-Determination, and the Rise of Human Rights’ in: A. Iriye e.a. (eds.), The Human Rights Revolution. An International History (Oxford 2012) 159-178.
  • Samuel Moyn, ‘On the Genealogy of Morals’, The Nation, April 16, 2007.

After successfully completing all the requirements for this masterclass, you can obtain a certificate of the credits upon request ( With this certificate you can validate the credits at your own local Graduate School.