The proceedings of the 2011 national human rights conference sponsored by Alma College’s Public Affairs Institute have been published in a book edited by Alma College faculty members Ed Lorenz and Dana Aspinall and former faculty member J. Michael Raley.
Montesinos’ Legacy: Defining and Defending Human Rights for Five Hundred Years is a collection of essays on the legacy of Antonio de Montesinos’ famous 1511 sermon, which scholars argue is the most significant sermon on human rights in the history of the Americas.
The essays were presented at the 500th Anniversary Conference on Universality in Human Rights, held in Washington, D.C., in December 2011.
The conference was originated by Alma College students and faculty but won the support of leaders at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, which provided conference facilities, and the Embassy of the Dominican Republic, as well as other organizations and individuals.
In addition to formal papers by historians, law professors, political scientists, physicians, clergy and diplomats, the students of Dana Aspinall, associate professor of English, performed Jean-Claude Carrière’s “The Controversy of Valladolid.” The weekend conference ended with a celebration at St. Matthew’s Cathedral and a re-reading of the 1511 Montesinos homily.
“The origin of this work arose in response to the continuing stories of violations of fundamental human rights, especially of the indigenous, in the new millennium,” says Lorenz, the Reid-Knox Professor of History and director of the Public Affairs Institute. “As 2011 approached, it seemed appropriate to some that we use the anniversary of one of the greatest defenses of human rights, 500 years ago, to justify a new review of where we are.”
Montesinos, a Dominican priest in Santo Domingo in the early Spanish Empire, called for the reform of Spanish policy toward the indigenous in his 1511 sermon.
“As far as protecting the indigenous, Montesinos is a model for how people today ought to be taking on human rights,” says Lorenz. “While focusing on contemporary approaches to protect human rights, the conference brought together international scholars, attorneys, civic leaders and other experts to discuss how to build on Montesinos’ legacy.
“The goal was to think about the future,” says Lorenz. “We discussed what needed to be done in order to improve leadership and protect human rights more effectively.”
About 40 Alma College students attended the 2011 conference and assisted with planning. Several alumni from the greater Washington, D.C., area also attended and participated in conference sessions.