Mark Philip Bradley, the Faculty Director of the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights, discussed his latest book, The World Reimagined: Americans and Human Rights in the 20th Century, last Tuesday evening at the Seminary Co-Op.
Set against an international backdrop, The World Reimagined follows the development of modern America’s ubiquitous language and understanding of human rights.
Looking at the 1940s and 1970s, two significant decades in America’s human rights history, the book reviews how new ways of communicating political and legal thought transformed everyday Americans’ understanding of human rights.
“I was constantly having to remind myself that this was a history of human rights and Americans, not the human rights movement as a whole,” said University of Chicago professor Haun Saussy, who joined Bradley in conversation about the book.
“The more I read, the more I realized how unusual the American understanding and the story is in the context of all nations involved in the conversation,” Saussy said.
Saussy opened the discussion by describing several aspects of the book he found surprising. He said that the circulation of visual evidence in publications like Time and Life “very deftly shows how involved the major illustrative magazines were in talking about issues of inequality…in showing how the other half lives.”
Images of farmer hands leaving the dust bowl for California or prisoners in concentration camps, Sassy said, were “now brought home.”
Saussy also emphasized that America’s human rights history was exceptional. “Americans’ public diplomacy has always been quick to talk about rights to free speech, rights of the individual person; and much less quick to talk about rights to education, rights to medical care…these sorts of things worry Americans because they cost money.”
The rest of the conversation between Bradley and Saussy covered broader issues ranging from the professionalization of human rights, to the different types of human rights prioritized in the 1940s and 1970s, to the promotion of human rights as a discourse by universities and state systems.
The World Reimagined is the third and latest book Bradley has written.