Writing Wrongs: Literature and Human Rights in the 18th Century (ASECS-sponsored session; MLA 2014, Chicago)

full name / name of organization: 
Ramesh Mallipeddi

Rights are entitlements or justifiable claims; human rights are a special kind of claim that one is entitled to by virtue of being human. In her recent study _Inventing Human Rights_ (2008), Lynn Hunt argues that rights were imagined as natural, inalienable, and universal in eighteenth-century sentimental literature, prior to their promulgation in the revolutionary Declarations. Specifically, for Hunt, it is by extensively documenting the flagrant wrongs suffered by various disenfranchised groups—women, slaves, prisoners, the insane— in the form of rape, enslavement, and carceral torture that sentimental fiction implicitly underscored their rights to bodily integrity and self-possession. This panel invites submissions that consider literature's influence on human rights in the age of Enlightenment. Possible topics for discussion include sentimental fiction's role in shaping new conceptions of human dignity; the intersections between humanitarian sensibility and human rights; the contribution of specific "first person" narratives—the rape narrative, slave narrative, and autobiographical testimony—to evolving notions of individual autonomy and equality.

This is a guaranteed session, arranged by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Send 1-page abstract and brief CV to ramesh.mallipeddi@hunter.cuny.edu by March 8.