Debbie Sharnak, PhD

Assistant Professor of History and International Studies, Rowan University
Debbie Sharnak's research and teaching explores the history of human rights, transnational networks, Latin America, and international relations. In her current book manuscript, Of Light and Struggle in Uruguay: Contesting the International History of Human Rights, she investigates the evolution of human rights discourse, particularly during Uruguay's transition back to democratic rule. She argues that throughout the country's experience with dictatorship, a politicized language of human rights often helped transnational actors, local human rights groups, and US foreign policy makers give new force to values deeply rooted in earlier ideas of social justice. By examining the case of Uruguay from each actor's distinct analytical perspective, she illuminates both convergence and tension among these groups that produced contested and ever-changing meanings of human rights. The analysis of Uruguay exposes battles over democracy and the ways social actors struggled to employ a new global language, especially during the 1980s when forging a successful transition back to democratic rule became so urgent. Rather than focus on a point of origins that launched human rights and its diffusion internationally, her research argues for examining the nonteleological history of rights within local communities, and how they influenced, and were influenced by, broader global movements. Sharnak's research is informed by her experience outside the classroom as well. She has worked at the International Center for Transitional Justice, Freedom House, and the Centro Nacional de Memoria Historica in Colombia. She has also written for a variety of online forums on these topics.


  • PhD University of Wisconsin