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HIST227, HIST331

Unit rationale, description and aim

An awareness of human rights in history is vital for the formation of an outlook shaped by empathy and infused by issues of social justice in a global context.

This unit examines the historical significance of the global search for social justice and human rights. While focussing primarily on events in the last 100 years, the unit will explore the evolution of notions of equality and the search for human dignity since the eighteenth century. In so doing it will equip students to understand the vital debates about human rights that take place in international conversations on trade, environment, diplomacy, peace and terrorism today. The history of human rights is a global story but is one that is fractured by place, time, people, power, religion and politics. This unit provides students with opportunities to understand the issues of the present through the lens of the past, developing skills in debating contested ideas, analysing case studies, and researching topics on human rights.

The aim of this unit is to enrich students' understanding of the debates about social justice that take place on national and global levels, and equip them to be able to take part in these in an informed and articulate way.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Discuss theoretical and factual knowledge about human rights abuses or campaigns and their historical origins based on recent media coverage or primary sources (GA1, GA2, GA5, GA6)

LO2 - Communicate clearly in written and/or oral form, in a style appropriate to a specified audience (GA9)

LO3 - Locate and use primary and secondary materials appropriate to studies of political, civil, economic, social, environmental or cultural rights in the international context (GA2, GA3, GA8, GA10)

LO4 - Apply critical reading skills to your understanding of human rights and the methods that historians have used to research it (GA4, GA5)

LO5 - Interpret and reflect on key ethical and historical debates relating to real-world situations/case studies in human rights over time (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6)

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society 

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 

GA10 - utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively.


Topics may include: 

  • The world around us: current human rights issues and how to find them 
  • What are human rights? Historical origins of human rights 
  • Early 20th century campaigns to document and expose atrocity  
  • The League of Nations and its limits: protecting citizens in the 1920-40s 
  • The Holocaust and WWII crimes against humanity  
  • Nuremberg and Tokyo War Crimes Trials 
  • United Nations conventions; major international and national bodies advocating the importance of Human Rights. 
  • Citizens as defenders of human rights such as: Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch 
  • Universalism and its challengers (topics such as): 
  •  “Asian Values” and “Islamic Values”: cultural relativism and human rights debates 
  • Universalism and its defenders (topics such as): 
  • gender, sexuality and reproductive rights 
  • Refugees and the right to seek asylum in a global context 
  • Environment as a human rights issue  
  • Terrorism, torture and the fragility of individual rights 
  • World Indigenous Peoples — reactions and interactions with concepts of human rights 
  • Evidence based debating techniques for human rights topics 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

Mode:            On campus one 2hr lecture and one 1hour tutorial or equivalent, with the possibility of online discussions and film screenings. 

Duration:12 weeks 

This unit is delivered as a face to face class in order to immerse students in active learning through activities which facilitate the development of skills fundamental to the discipline of history and deep understanding of course content. This unit engages students in active learning activities, such as reading, writing, discussion, debate and problem-solving to promote analysis, synthesis and evaluation of class content. Students use case studies to explore how what they have learned applies to real world situations. 

Students in this unit will be encouraged to develop specific skills in reading and understanding primary sources; begin to understand the dynamics of historical and historiographical debate and incorporate secondary material into their own research and analysis. This unit introduces students to historical strategies for understanding how to interpret a broad sweep of history. 

This unit has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit, as described in the learning and teaching strategy and the assessment strategy. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support your learning such as lectures, tutorials, reading, reflection, discussion, film screenings, skills workshops, and assignments etc. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

In the History discipline, second year units are designed to include a selection of assessment tasks that develop key skills and enrich students’ understanding of the debates about social justice that take place on a national level, and equip them to be able to take part in these in an informed and articulate way. Students in this unit will be encouraged to develop specific skills in debating the past in the hands-on history task (LO1 and LO2). Students will develop skills in locating; reading and analysing sources; consider different approaches to the past and the dynamics of historical and historiographical debate and employ active research techniques in their own research and analysis in the research assignment (LO2-4). This unit introduces students to historical strategies for understanding how to consider the multiple facets of a thematic and fascinating approach to history which will be assessed in the summative assessment (LO2-5).  

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Hands-On History Task:  

Requires students to identify human rights abuses or campaigns and engage with debates about human rights in the past and present.  

Topics and guidelines will be posted on LEO.  


LO1, LO2

GA1, GA2, GA5, GA6, GA9

Research Assignment:  

Requires students to demonstrate research skills to locate and use primary and secondary materials appropriate to studies on human rights in history (political, civil, economic, social, environmental or cultural rights and to communicate clearly in written, digital or oral form to construct an evidence-based historical narrative or argument with appropriate referencing. 

Topics and guidelines will be posted on LEO. 


LO2, LO3, LO4

GA2, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9, GA10

Summative Assessment:  

Requires students to demonstrate a mastery of unit materials and content and apply analytical skills to understand how time, place, politics and context have shaped debates about human rights around the world. 


Topics and guidelines will be posted on LEO.  


LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5

GA2, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9, GA10

Representative texts and references

Benson, S. The Making of International Human Rights: the 1960s: Decolonization and the Reconstruction of Global Values, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. 

Boyd, D. The Environmental Rights Revolution: a Global Study of Constitutions, Human Rights, and the Environment, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012.  

Bradley, M, The World Reimagined: Americans and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. 

Burke, R.  Decolonization and the Evolution of International Human Rights, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010. 

Eckel, J and Samuel Moyn, The Breakthrough: Human Rights in the 1970s, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. 

Morsink, J. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting and Intent, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc. 1999. 

Neier, A. The International Human Rights Movement: A History, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021. 

Sachedina, A. Islam and the Challenge of Human Rights, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 

Stone, D. The Historiography of Genocide, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. 

Tan, H. The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights: Institutionalising Human Rights in Southeast Asia, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 

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