In recent years, scholars from a range of disciplinary orientations have invested considerable time exploring a very basic question: Where did human rights come from? The answers have not been so basic. There exists an extraordinary range of conflicting historical accounts. The hotly debated question of the moment within this field of study centers on figuring out which version of the history is the correct one. However, given the dramatic distance between the historical accounts, it is very unlikely that the matter will be settled in the near future. This Article argues that it is time to shift the focal point of the debate on the origins of human rights. Instead of asking which narrative is correct and which is wrong, knowledge production within this field of study would be better served by asking: Why are there so many divergent founding stories? This question still permits an inquiry into the history and origins of human rights, but it also requires scholars to be much more mindful about how they and others have been constructing their histories. Asking this question also provides a way to begin to explore a sneaking suspicion that many of the debates over the history of human rights are simply another way of putting forth normative arguments about what human rights ought to be. It is therefore not just the history of human rights that we need to scrutinize. It is time to take stock of all the hidden assumptions, veiled methodologies, and normative underpinnings that in recent years have guided the many competing stories of origin in vastly different directions.
Roberts, Christopher N.J.
"Grasping at Origins: Shifting the Conversation in the Historical Study of Human Rights,"
Chicago Journal of International Law:
2, Article 6.
Available at: https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cjil/vol17/iss2/6