The World Reimagined: An Interview with Mark Bradley, Part 2

By Lael Weinberger


This week, we're interviewing Mark Bradley about his recent book, The World Reimagined: Americans and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge 2016). You can read the first installment here.

LW: How did you start to think about writing on the history of human rights?

Mark Bradley: That’s easy.  Almost 15 years ago now, I attended a conference on torture at Chicago organized by Michael Geyer.  At the time, I was not a member of the faculty but I knew Michael well and was curious how he would structure such a gathering.  I was also finishing up my first book on Vietnam, and beginning to think about what would come next.  That said, I didn’t go to the conference with writing a book about human rights in mind.  The conference, the best I have ever attended, totally blew me away.  It was, in the spirit of the Chicago study of human rights, an interdisciplinary affair. If anything, history was to the side.  But a series of presentations by anthropologists, sociologists and activists on making sense of torture in both an individual and structural frame were entirely original to me.  One on the torture of Palestinians is still with me.  That history was in a minor key at the conference was striking, and reflected how late as a discipline we entered into the conversation about human rights.  It is only the last 10 years or so that human rights has had a history as such.  I think at one level, after having written my way around the very crowded fields of the histories of decolonization and Cold War, the prospect of writing about a subject without the burden of a deep historiography -- in a sense being able to be a part of efforts to shape a new field -- was both liberating and exciting. 

Read Part 3 of the interview here.