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The Architecture of Concepts proposes a radically new way of understanding the history of ideas. Taking as its example human rights it develops a distinctive kind of conceptual analysis that enables us to see with precision how the concept of human rights was formed in the eighteenth century. The history it presents is based on the innovative account of concepts as cultural entities outlined in the first chapter. The second uses an original methodology for recovering the historical formation of the concept of human rights through data extracted from digital archives. Using this data it becomes possible to track precisely the ways in which conceptual architectures are constructed over time.
Furthermore, this innovative methodology generates new facts that could only come to light through the extensive reach of computational searches through digital archives. Having established the architecture of the concept of human rights the book then examines two key moments in the historical formation of the concept: the First Continental Congress in 1775 and the publication of Tom Paine's Rights of Man in 1792. Arguing that we have yet to fully understand or appreciate the full importance of the eighteenth-century invention of the concept 'rights of man', the final chapter addresses the problematic contemporary attempts to use human rights as a lever for generating true equality. The Architecture of Concepts presents an innovative way of understanding conceptual history that can be applied to concepts in general. It also argues that we need to understand the architecture of the concept of human rights in order to deploy it effectively in the modern world.