Sarah Winter Receives NEH Fellowship for Project on Habeas Corpus and Human Rights

English Professor Sarah Winter has received a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) fellowship for an interdisciplinary book project entitled Habeas Corpus, Human Rights, and the Novel in the 18th and 19th Centuries. She will hold the NEH Fellowship from August 2016 through July 2017.

Winter’s project developed from her interests in the literary, political, and legal history of Britain and the interdisciplinary discussions ongoing through the Research Project on Humanitarianism at the Human Rights Institute at UConn, specifically the faculty study groups focusing on human rights narratives and human rights history. She was awarded an HRI Faculty Research Fellowship in Spring 2012 to develop this project, starting her journey towards this NEH Fellowship awarded in December 2015.

The project itself will study novels that incorporate a popular habeas corpus narrative formulated by British abolitionists in the 1770s to publicize cases of slaves freed in England by the writ of habeas corpus. This type of narrative shows how the vulnerable bodies of slaves were conceptualized and protected by the habeas corpus judicial process and thus connects the history of humanitarianism and human rights discourses in18th- and 19th-century Britain. The text is organized around five case studies that illustrate legal cases concerning slaves and political prisoners and the adaptation of the habeas corpus process. By using novels and their invocation of human rights language as evidence, Winter seeks to destabilize current narratives of the history of human rights while also highlighting the political significance of references to habeas corpus. “I hope to open a new historical understanding of human rights that hasn’t been inspected yet,” Winter explained.

In terms of audience, Winter hopes her book will resonate with readers in the fields of legal and human rights history and literary studies, and also with human rights practitioners. She claims the book offers insight into “urgent questions about how we can balance due process protection with emergencies such as the current problems of public perceptions of international terrorism and the ongoing refugee crisis.” As habeas corpus means “you have the body” in Latin and refers to literally bringing bodies to court and subsequently protecting them, discussions of cases surrounding how these writs were used (especially by non-citizens and marginalized individuals) are pertinent to human rights crises today.

Reflecting upon the NEH Fellowship application process itself, Professor Winter emphasized the invaluable support she received from the Human Rights Institute. “The HRI faculty research groups have been highly influential and helpful to refine my ideas and see how compelling they are to other human rights scholars.” As a result, her project has implications for the way we see the history of human rights and the current debates surrounding non-citizen rights in both domestic and international contexts. We look forward to reading Professor Winter’s book when it is finished!

For more information on Professor Winter’s impressive achievement and project, please see the following UConn Today article.