Course Instructor Days Times Room
ENGL3330 SANTESSO, ESRA TR 11:00 AM 0139


 Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, […]

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

                                                                         -- Preamble, UDHR, 1948

Course Description:

Many scholars argue that there is an inherent correlation between legal rights and literary forms: storytelling is an act of bearing witness to injustices, giving voice to the oppressed and the underprivileged, and raising ethical questions about the quality of human existence. Indeed, some scholars argue that a globally recognized declaration of rights would not have been possible if it were not for literary narratives that dealt with issues such as right to life, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law. With this in mind, this course investigates the way in which literary studies have contributed to the understanding of human rights and their implementation by the nation-state. We will consider what it means to be a “human” in an age of globalization with specific “rights” and “responsibilities”—with an emphasis on human dignity, equality, liberty, and progress. An important goal of this course is to approach the idea of human rights not, as is often the case, simply as a “universal” ideal, but as a framework from which to launch a critique of the relationship between western and non-western traditions.

We will be looking at a variety of genres (novels, essays, newspaper articles, and manifestos) in order to discuss how literary authors represent human rights violations and how they use the power of narrative to communicate and condemn injustices. We will discuss the ways in which these texts both support and problematize international efforts; the United Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has been described in academic circles as “urgent and necessary” as well as “incomplete and inadequate.” Ultimately, our analysis of the texts will address questions about aesthetics and ethics simultaneously: what responsibilities do these authors have towards their subject-matter/audience as they tell their stories? How do these stories relate to cultural and aesthetic forms? In what way do they resolve the tension between the cultural and the universal?