Archives, Evidence and Human Rights

Academic Year: 
Course Description: 

The Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives (, a popular research center of CEU, and one of the most significant Cold War and human rights archives in the world, offers a three-credit interdisciplinary course to the students of the Human Rights Program of the Department of Legal Studies, and to students of the Department of History.
The course includes an introduction to the history and philosophy of preserving recorded memory and gives an overview of the basic functions and types of modern human rights archives. It further aims at analyzing the legal and ethical problems of using human rights documents containing personal data, as well as basic provisions of archival and information law. Case studies illustrate the problems of critically reading, authenticating and evaluating (forensic) archival evidence on mass atrocities, and, specifically, of possibilities and limitations of using them in court environment, the historical, ethical, and legal aspects of making justice for past abuses and the difficulties of making state leaders liable for human rights violations. New methods of creating alternative human rights and historical narratives from diverse archival sources are introduced, along with innovative digital systems of managing and analyzing human rights information. The course also explores practices of memorializing human rights violations and mass atrocities in the archival space.

Besides classes and individual consultations, the course includes workshops during which students have the opportunity to work with original historical documents. All classes and workshops are held in the building of Blinken OSA, located just a few blocks away from CEU’s main campus. The course is cross-listed with other CEU departments to attract students with different backgrounds working on topics related to recorded memory, history of human rights movements and violations, historical analysis and representations of oppressive regimes or retroactive justice.

Learning Outcomes: 

- Guide students in understanding common archival goals and processes, and different approaches to gathering and organizing information

- Develop students’ ability to find and use primary sources in their research and thesis writing

- Orientate students in the area of online search possibilities, especially in finding and using trusted search engines, databases and online repositories

- Urge students to reconsider the use of recorded memory in evaluating the moral and legal aspects of justice-making

- Challenge students to evaluate, critically approach and innovatively use different kinds of archival documents relating to violations of human rights

- Strengthen students' ability to demonstrate an awareness and understanding of documentary evidence in the context of human rights


Grading is based on a take-home essay prepared on the students’ individual research topic, research in Blinken OSA’s archival holdings, consultations with the supervisors, as well as a mid-term presentation and other written and oral contributions to classes. Completing the course is a prerequisite of taking the Archives and Evidentiary Practices Specialization.