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Human rights have  since their ‘birth’ been essentially contested concepts. Recently, they have become subject of intense debates in historiography. Sam Moyn’s provocative book The Last Utopia (2010) made in particular clear how important it is to investigate precisely which meaning human rights have been given in a particular context.

In the year 1979, millions of Egyptians mesmerized in front of their television sets watching a TV series about the life of a blind man from a subaltern village in Upper Egypt who fought against poverty, ignorance and illness to become a symbol of enlightenment in post colonial Egypt.

This is the final blog post in a series of four. In this series I seek to highlight some of the underlying assumptions of four concepts or approaches that are commonly employed to further the human rights of excluded or marginalized individuals or groups.

This is the third blog post in a series of four in which I aim to highlight some of the underlying assumptions of concepts and approaches which are commonly employed to further the human rights of excluded or marginalized individuals or groups.

This blog post is the second in a series of four in which I aim to disentangle some of the underlying assumptions of contemporary concepts and approaches that can be employed for justifying or engaging with the international human rights law framework.

In an earlier post on this blog Paul van Trigt pointed to the frequent neglect of viewing human rights in their larger historical context. This is not only true for historians but, arguably, even more so for human rights lawyers.

Iek! Ik kan een kreetje niet onderdrukken wanneer het me overkomt, vaak na dagen vruchteloos ploeteren. Senioren die hun familiestamboom zitten uit te pluizen kijken licht geërgerd op. In archieven wordt doorgaans gezwegen. Frivole uitroepen van arbeidsvreugde zijn ze er niet gewend. Een historisch vondstje brengt me nu eenmaal een kinderlijk gevoel van bevrediging.

Today “the world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war”, the UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs recently declared. This statement shows that humanitarianism is very much alive today, but that it apparently also has a history. But why am I writing about that on a blog related to the history of disability?

In the summer of 1981, fifteen disabled Greenlanders went aboard the MS Disko, travelling along the rugged coastline of West Greenland to the abandoned village of Illorpaat about 425km north of the polar circle. Their destination was the annual aasivik, originally an Inuit summer gathering on plentiful hunting grounds. Since 1976, the tradition had been resurrected as a music festival and discussion forum for political, social and cultural issues closely linked to Greenlandic identity and independence.

In a recent debate about human rights historiography Lynn Hunt points to the presumption of leading scholars in the field that ‘the history of human rights must be first and foremost a political history in the most old-fashioned sense, that is, a history of diplomacy (covenants) and warfare (interventions).’ Therefore she emphasizes the relevance of the writing of ‘a social history of internationalism that is attentive to the role of women and non-Westerners’.