Spring 2025

Human Rights and National Security: Seeking Balance in the United States

Listed in: History, as HIST-260


Vanessa Walker (Section 01)


[US/TR/TS] Is preserving collective security and individual rights inherently contradictory or can they be mutually reinforcing? Focusing on rights within the United States, this course will explore how the United States has sought to balance these competing concerns in the past, and the implications of this history for contemporary debates. We will examine the shifting meaning of "national security" and how it has changed at key moments in the nation’s history. We will also analyze how debates over national security and rights have reflected broader partisan divides, served diverse political objectives, and reflected competing visions of national identity and purpose. The shifting relationship between these two imperatives addresses the central purpose and dilemma of democratic governance: to advance the collective good while ensuring basic freedoms for all individuals. The course will initially survey these issues through a historical lens, demonstrating how questions of security and rights have been present since the nation’s founding. Contemporary case studies will make up the bulk of the remainder of the course: refugees and immigration; domestic counter-terrorism and due process; cybersecurity and surveillance; domestic terrorism and hate crimes; detention and interrogation. Three class meetings per week.

Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professor Walker.

How to handle overenrollment: Priority to HIST majors, by reverse seniority if necessary (i.e., first-years, sophomores, etc.)

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Close analysis of historical evidence, which may include written documents, images, music, films, or statistics from the historical period under study. Exploration of scholarly, methodological, and theoretical debates about historical topics. Extensive reading, varying forms of written work, and intensive in-class discussions.

Course Materials


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2025