Print ISBN: 978-1-63700-396-1
# of Pages: 400
# of Volumes: 2
Print List Price: $295
e-ISBN: 978-1-63700-399-2
eBook User Price: $295
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Defining Documents in World History: Human Rights

February 2023

Human rights have an honored place in modern history and are based on the idea of human dignity and worth. Today they encompass civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights and freedoms and are understood to apply universally to humankind. The idea of human rights appears in some early religious writings and is reflected in the Magna Carta (1215). Such rights were discussed throughout the Age of Enlightenment and were central to the American Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens, among other documents.

After World War II, the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights set the modern standard in international law following the horrors of the war. Since then, human rights have come to be widely espoused by liberal Western nations and generally disparaged by authoritarian regimes. Organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch promote human rights and document abuses.

This set, Defining Documents in World History: Human Rights, offers in-depth analysis of fifty-two documents, including agreements, book excerpts, constitutions, conventions, declarations, legislative acts, proclamations, speeches, statements, statutes, and treaties. These selections trace the evolution of human rights, in its many forms and contexts, from 539 BCE to today. The first volume of this set includes essays on the following topics: Race, Ethnicity, and Colonialism; Political and Civil Rights; and International Efforts and the Work of the United Nations. The second volume continues with the following: Gender, Sexuality, and the Family; and Economic and Labor Rights.

The material is organized into five sections, each beginning with a brief introduction that examines the importance of the topic through a variety of historical documents.

  • Race, Ethnicity, and Colonialism includes documents such as the Declaration of Sentiments of the American Anti-Slavery Convention and The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin’s Address to the First National Conference of Colored Women, Mahatma Gandhi’s “Quit India” Speech, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Political and Civil Rights includes an Excerpt from the Cyrus Cylinder, the famous Magna Carta document, the Bill of Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  • International Efforts and the Work of the United Nations begins with the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, then is followed by the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the Human Rights Concerns Related to the Forced Displacement in Ukraine.
  • Gender, Sexuality, and the Family includes documents such as a Letter to the Queen on Lord Chancellor Cranworth’s Marriage and Divorce Bill, excerpts from the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, Emmeline Pankhurt’s “Freedom or Death” speech outlining the case for women’s suffrage, the court ruling of Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion in America, the legislation of the European Union: Summary of Directive on Gender Equality to combat general inequality, and the court opinion Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage in America and stated that limiting marriage to heterosexual couples was a form of discrimination and therefor unconstitutional.
  • Economic and Labor Rights includes Jane Addams’s “Child Labor and Other Dangers of Childhood” address, the 1963 Equal Pay Act which has been a major factor in the move toward equal salaries for men and women, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and the 2008 Seoul Declaration on Safety and Health at Work which ensured that places of employment are both safe and healthy.

Each Historical Document is supported by a critical essay, written by historians and teachers, that includes a Summary Overview, Defining Moment, About the Author, Document Analysis, and Essential Themes. An important feature of each essay is a close reading of the primary source that develops broader themes, such as the author’s rhetorical purpose, social or class position, point of view, and other relevant issues. Each essay also includes a Bibliography and Additional Reading section that provides suggestions for further readings and research.

Appendixes in this book include:

  • Chronological List which arranges all documents by year;
  • Web Resources, an annotated list of websites that offer valuable supplemental resources;
  • Bibliography lists of helpful articles and books for further study

About the Series

The Defining Documents series provides in-depth commentary and analysis on the most important primary source documents in the United States and the world. The Defining Documents series is perfect for students, those researching a particular era, or anyone interested in world history. Visit for more information about additional titles in this series.

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