Human rights have an honored place in modern history and are based on the idea of human dignity and worth. Today they encompass civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights and freedoms and are understood to apply universally to humankind. The idea of human rights appears in some early religious writings and is reflected in the Magna Carta (1215). Such rights were discussed throughout the Age of Enlightenment and were central to the American Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens, among other documents. After World War II, the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights set the modern standard in international law following the horrors of the war. Since then, human rights have come to be widely espoused by liberal Western nations and generally disparaged by authoritarian regimes. Organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch promote human rights and document abuses. This set offers in-depth analysis of fifty-two documents, including agreements, book excerpts, constitutions, conventions, declarations, legislative acts, proclamations, speeches, statements, statutes, and treaties. These selections trace the evolution of human rights, in its many forms and contexts, from 539 BCE to today. The material is organized into five sections, each beginning with a brief introduction that examines the importance of the topic through a variety of historical documents. Each Historical Document is supported by a critical essay, written by historians and teachers, that includes a Summary Overview, Defining Moment, About the Author, Document Analysis, and Essential Themes. An important feature of each essay is a close reading of the primary source that develops broader themes, such as the author's rhetorical purpose, social or class position, point of view, and other relevant issues. Essays also include a Bibliography and Additional Reading.