Dave Griffin
Human Rights and AP Central

Human Rights are often understood as the "Inalienable fundamental rights given to any individual" under unaltered circumstances. This however is a broad statement that in no ways is actualized by the world. The idea of Human rights is much older than many think, often times Hammurabi's code is perceived as an early form of Human Rights dating back to 1800 B.C. The Idea of modern Human Rights did not arrive until the late 1600's when with the English Bill of Rights. After that there were adaptations and declarations such as the United States' declaration of Independence which also modified the idea of Human Rights to fit their circumstance. It was until 1948 that the newly formed United Nations tried to proclaim a standardization of Human Rights. However, the task of unifying the world under one code proved to be an impossibly complex task due to cultural, religious, and economic conflicts. Therefore, In Bulliet and AP Central's lessons on the topic they neglect to include a majority of the complications and debates over the topic leading to a simplification of an issue that essentially is too intricate to be abridged.

Upon discussion of Human Rights, AP Central believes that as the world globalizes a common standard of rights emerges. The example given by them is the "UN Declaration of Human Rights" gaining "traction" as the world became more tied together.1 Another point explained by AP Central is the increased interactions of societies "among diverse peoples sometimes led to new identities" as well as conflict between socially and culturally different groups. 2AP Central comments on the ties between religions and Human Rights, as often times the tenants of religion find themselves into a society's definition of rights.

Bulliet takes an approach of progress and continued momentum on the issue of Human Rights. Starting with an explanation of early standardized rights predating 1800, but then fast-forwarding to 1948 for the UN declaration. He emphasizes the aspect of "a consensus against racism" making it the first universal declaration proclaiming this. 3The real examples of progression comes with the come with his explanation of Obama’s closing of "Gitmo, a prison for enemy combatants."4 Later he talks about woman’s universal rights and the great leap they have taken in the last 40 years. Lastly, he concludes with a statement on the constant debates regarding human rights citing the "condemnation of the death penalty in the United States" and religious conflicts.

Between both of them, AP Central and Bulliet, they fail to realize the complexity of the issue they are talking about. In part this is due to their need to cover hundreds topics. They have a common goal of trying to cover history in total in under a thousand pages which is no easy task. That being said, Human Rights is too expansive a topic to "briefly discuss." Bulliet can't be blamed because he is just catering to AP Central who are the real culprits. In their outline they dedicate all of two sentences to the topic. Even if they are trying to cover four thousand years of history, Human Rights spans all of that time and should really be a much larger theme within their curriculum.

An example of the sheer complexity is the amount of resources the United Nations dedicates to Human Rights as a global and localized issue. Currently the UN (united Nations) has three main councils the General Assembly Third committee for social, humanitarian and cultural issues, the Charter-based and treaty based bodies Council and the UN Human Rights Council.5 (UN.org)Within these three groups are thousands of individuals who are dedicated to defending their country's best interest. This leads to numerous disagreements on the issue of Human Rights due to the fact that each individual country has their own unique look on each issue. On a more complicated level, each of these countries represented in the UN has subcultures within them that all have different views. Therefore, sometimes when a representative from a country supports an idea the majority of his country is sided against him. Another example of the complications in the UN are the sub-conferences of which there are eleven. They span issues from genocide to Indigenous peoples.6 (UN.org) This is an important aspect to grasp because Bulliet and AP Central don't include the extraneous circumstances that produce exemptions or limitations on the standardization of Human Rights. While the UN provides a major insight into the complications of what Bulliet and AP simplifies, it is only a small glimpse of the overall complications.

Other Historians too try to expand on the idea. Olwen Hufton, a renowned historian upon the topic of social histories tries to explain the different ways to examine the topic of Human Rights. She believes that the philosopher approaches Human Rights "with an eye to determining their evolution," while the historian asks "why did the idea emerge in the West and not elsewhere?"7 Both these observations enlighten us to points not even remotely covered in both AP Central and Bulliet's interpretations of Human Rights. Commenting on the apparent complications of Human Rights Hufton states that "growth or sub categorization should not lead one to think…everything tends toward progress and expansion and there are no backward steps."8 She touches upon another important issue; the issue of backward momentum. Sometimes we try to force a law corresponding to Human Rights that actually harms society or frays the cultural fabric of an area. For instance, if an area lives according to a religious code and an outside source like the United Nations tries to alter that it may lead to fighting and protest. Hufton sights the idea of the "Muslim veil" as a prime example of this. We in the West believe that it is a demeaning symbol where as Muslim women see it as a "marker of national identity rather than a subordination to men."9 (pg 4) While Hufton is just one historian she manages to expand the ideas of Both AP central and Bulliet in just a few pages

Simplifying a complex issue is good way for ignorance to spread and while I'm sure that is not the goal of AP Central and certainly not Bulliet they are on the right track. In the future AP Central should have a whole either a whole exam dedicated to ethics and Human Rights and Bulliet should really have a whole chapter dedicated to the topic. Without an emphasis on Human Rights and its development can AP Central really call their test one of World History?


Hufton, Olwen H. Historical Change and Human Rights. New York: Basic, 1995.

"College Board." AP Central. Web. 04 May 2012. <http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/Controller.jpf>.

Bulliet, Richard W. The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.
"UN, United Nations." UN News Center. UN. Web. 04 May 2012. <http://www.un.org/en/>.
1"College Board." AP Central. Web. 04 May 2012. <http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/Controller.jpf>.
2"College Board." AP Central. Web. 04 May 2012. <http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/Controller.jpf>.
3Bulliet, Richard W. The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print. (Page 971)
4Bulliet, Richard W. The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print. (Page 972)
5"UN, United Nations." UN News Center. UN. Web. 04 May 2012. <http://www.un.org/en/>.
6"UN, United Nations." UN News Center. UN. Web. 04 May 2012. <http://www.un.org/en/>.
7Hufton, Olwen H. Historical Change and Human Rights. New York: Basic, 1995. (Page 2)
8Hufton, Olwen H. Historical Change and Human Rights. New York: Basic, 1995. (Page 3)
9Hufton, Olwen H. Historical Change and Human Rights. New York: Basic, 1995. (Page 4)