Featured Courses in Human Rights

Courses in human rights are offered in conjunction with the Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR) at Columbia University, the first academic center in the world founded on an interdisciplinary commitment to the study of human rights. Courses include active engagement with the world of human rights practitioners and emphasize the connection between the study and practice of human rights.

This listing represents a sample of courses offered by the Institute for the Study of Human Rights this Summer. See the Human Rights Summer Courses page for the complete list.

Introduction to Human Rights

This course will provide a wide-ranging survey of conceptual foundations and issues in contemporary human rights. The class will examine the philosophical origins of human rights, contemporary debates, the evolution of human rights, key human rights documents, and the questions of human rights enforcement. This course will examine specific civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and various thematic topics in human rights.
see department listings

International Human Rights Movement: Past, Present, Future

The human rights movement is one of the most successful social justice movements of our time, establishing universal principles that govern how states should treat citizens and non-citizens. The movement strengthens, and is strengthened by, a complex web of institutions, laws, and norms that constitute a functioning global system that builds on itself progressively, animated by strong NGOs. The course will address the evolution of the international human rights movement and on the NGOs that drive the movement on the international, regional and domestic levels. Sessions will highlight the experiences of major human rights NGOs and will address topics including strategy development, institutional representation, research methodologies, partnerships, networks, venues of engagement, campaigning, fundraising and, perhaps most importantly, the fraught and complex debates about adaptation to changing global circumstances.
see department listings

International Human Rights Law

This course introduces the fundamental concepts and problems of public international law. What are the origins of international law? Is international law really law? Who is governed by it? How are treaties interpreted? What is the relationship between international law and domestic law? We examine the interplay between law and international politics, in particular with reference to international human rights, humanitarian law, the use of force, and international criminal prosecutions. No prior knowledge of international law is required. While the topics are necessarily law-related, the course will assume no prior exposure to legal studies.
see department listings

Human Rights and Visual Culture

This course examines the relationship between visual culture and human rights. It considers a wide range of visual media (photography, painting, sculpture), as well as aspects of visuality (surveillance, profiling). We will use case studies ranging in time from the early modern period (practices in which the body was marked to measure criminality, for example), to the present day. Within this framework, we will study how aspects of visual culture have been used to advocate for human rights, as well as how images and visual regimes have been used to suppress human rights. An important part of the course will be to consider the role played by reception in shaping a discourse around human rights, visuality, and images. Subjects to be addressed include: the nature of evidence; documentation and witness; censorship; iconoclasm; surveillance; profiling; advocacy images; signs on the body; visibility and invisibility.
see department listings

Human Rights and Global Economic Justice

The world economy is a patchwork of competing and complementary interests among and between governments, corporations, and civil society. These stakeholders at times cooperate and also conflict over issues of global poverty, inequality, and sustainability. What role do human rights play in coordinating the different interests that drive global economic governance? This seminar will introduce students to different structures of global governance for development, trade, labor, finance, the environment, migration, and intellectual property and investigate their relationship with human rights. Students will learn about public, private, and mixed forms of governance, analyze the ethical and strategic perspectives of the various stakeholders and relate them to existing human rights norms. The course will examine the work of multilateral organizations such as the United Nations and the International Financial Institutions, as well as international corporate and non-governmental initiatives.
see department listings

Displacement and Forced Migration

This course will analyze the changing terrain of forced migration. Its focus will be on the systemic nature of recent crises, scrutinizing both their root causes and the challenges faced by the myriad of international, regional, national and local actors seeking to respond to them. The readings will draw both on the academic and the policy literature, emphasizing how a human rights perspective contributes to our understanding the fundamental challenges that lie ahead. The course will critically examine how the field of forced migration studies has evolved in recent years to reflect these new conditions. It will look at the theoretical arguments for accepting refugees from a rights perspective and show how these understandings have been embedded in international laws, norms and structures. It will survey how national governments have developed responses intended to meet these obligations as they also weigh national security and electoral concerns in the development of their policies. The empirical focus will be on the Middle East and the recent Syrian and Iraqi crises, looking at how a range of actors, primarily based in Europe and in the region itself, are responding to the greatest refugee and IDP crisis since the end of World War II. The course will conclude with an examination of local issues, as this is where the tensions are often most sharply experienced.
see department listings

Women, Gender, and Political Violence

This course explores how women's experiences of violence in conflict are guided by traditional patriarchal views of femininity, and furthermore how this violence influences their agencies and their realization of human rights. Through academic texts, documents produced by the U.N. and NGOs globally, academic experts, and documentaries, we will explore a wide range of women's experiences of violence in conflict, including: the relationship between domestic violence in the private/home space and the violence of war in the public space; how the rape of women is used to decipher and forge the borders/boundaries of imagined, emerging nations, as in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda; debates on women terrorists, suicide bombers, and freedom fighters; and sexual violence against women in the U.S. military.
see department listings

The New York
City Experience

International House
Visit the United Nations, where decisions of global import take place. Schedule a Speakers Bureau briefing with a U.N. expert and take a tour of the majestic chambers. Multilingual guides will conduct your tour in the language of your choice.

Moving Images
At the Brooklyn Museum, glimpse the exhibition Revolution! Works from the Black Arts Movement. Featuring '60s- and '70s-era works that explore the intersection of art and activism, this collection seethes just as much now as it did then.

Art and Whimsy
The New-York Historical Society showcases original art, sketches, and inspirational drawings from Mo Willems, whose beloved children’s book characters speak with a distinctly New York accent.