rusq: Vol. 51 Issue 2: p. 195
Sources: An Encyclopedia of Human Rights in the United States, 2nd ed
Todd J. Wiebe

Todd J. Wiebe, Research & Instruction Librarian, Van Wylen Library, Hope College, Holland, Michigan

This two-volume, 1,835-page reference set is the updated, “post 9/11” edition of its predecessor, Human Rights in the United States: A Dictionary and Documents (ABC-Clio, 2000) by Rita Cantos Cartwright and H. Victor Condé. Including nearly 100 additional terms, Condé, now the sole named author, has drawn upon an additional decade of critical events, political developments, and legislation in producing this considerably improved and appropriately modernized product.

Divided into three main sections, its format is simple and straightforward: “Terms” (also referred to as “the dictionary”), “Primary Documents,” and and appendix. Also worth mentioning is the 48-page introductory essay, which provides a well-written and clear overview of the broader themes to an extent that demonstrates the author's prowess and understanding of the subject matter.

Terms are listed alphabetically and numbered in sequence. Entries are uniform in that each begins with a definition of the term followed by several paragraphs of commentary, outlining its historical, political, and legal significance within the context of the United States. If one or more of the documents included in the later section have relevance to a particular term, they are given mention here. Lastly, the customary “see also” terms are listed, referencing each by number. With some entries listing well over 100 terms to “see,” using numbers makes for a neat and compact list. The downside of this system, however, is the minor inconvenience of not being able to tell what terms are being suggested without flipping back to the table of contents to identify each by its given number.

The “Primary Documents” section begins halfway through the first volume and continues through the second. There are 106 documents in total, organized into 6 categories with the vast majority filed under “U.N. Related.” As explained in the section introduction, it is within the context of the United Nations that most U.S. international human rights activity occurs. Each document is prefaced by a list of helpful metadata including full official title, type of document, date of document, and other applicable descriptive information. Finally, the eighteen appendixes offer additional documents, charts, and other references to supplement the material in the two previous sections.

In the opening paragraph of the introduction and user's guide, the author writes, “The most important service this text could provide is the imparting of the basic concepts, definitions, and theory of international human rights as they are presently understood in the national and international context” (xxiii). While the inquisitive researcher could surely piece together similar content from an array of other sources, many freely available, Condé’s encyclopedia does what any good work of reference on a specific subject should do: provide an authoritative and well-organized amassment of pertinent information and supplementary material in one convenient location.

But is it unique? Yes. It is written especially for an American audience, providing broad coverage of important human rights issues concerning the U.S. while accentuating their international scope and consequence. It is intended to educate the “average American” whose understanding of the subject is “narrow, inaccurate, and often fully erroneous” (xxiii). Other reference works this reviewer has encountered treat the subject of human rights, on the whole, from a purely global perspective. The Encyclopedia of Human Rights (Oxford Univ. Pr., 2009) is an impressive 5-volume set containing essay-length entries for each country as well as other key human rights-related topics. Of lesser scope and scholarly value is the International Encyclopedia of Human Rights: Freedoms, Abuses, and Remedies (CQ Pr., 2000) which, for this subject, is clearly outdated. Neither of these loosely comparable works contains full text primary documents or appendix items like those provide in Condé’s work.

Although well-written, compiled, and somewhat reasonably priced, An Encyclopedia of Human Rights in the United States is not necessarily a “must-have” library reference source. However, some professors of undergraduate-level political science courses covering topics of human rights might find this a convenient and reliable go-to source for their students. The introductory essay could perhaps even serve as a nice primer on the subject in general. In any case, the e-book version would likely be the preferred option.

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