Two African American women shake hands in front of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Teaching the History of Human Rights

The visionary project at the heart of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is ripe for revisiting, reflection, and engagement. Educators can use these resources to bring the history and contemporary relevance of the UDHR into their classrooms.

December 10th marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly. Developed through a collaboration between world leaders, the creation of this document would mark a significant milestone in the history of human rights—one in which a shared sense of possibility for greater justice and human dignity emerged for the first time. The document also offered a shared framework that has empowered people to challenge human rights abuses around the world.

The visionary project at the heart of the UDHR—the vision of a world in which all people have what they need to lead lives of dignity—is ripe for revisiting, reflection, and engagement, particularly in this moment of ongoing violence and social upheaval across the globe. Yet it can be challenging for educators to navigate discussions about such violence in ways that make space for all of our students to engage critically with these events. Exploring the history of the UDHR and its continuing relevance today is one way to establish a shared language about human rights, a shared historical context, and a shared jumping off point for further exploration of human rights today.

Below are two resources that educators can use to bring the history and contemporary relevance of the UDHR into classrooms.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Use this unit to help students gain context on the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the role of Eleanor Roosevelt in its creation, and the legacies of this document today. 
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (unit)

    The UDHR is celebrated as one of the milestones in the history of human rights. The resources in this collection explore the context in which the document was drafted, the history of the declaration itself—including the debates and the dilemmas faced by Eleanor Roosevelt and others on the committee that produced the UDHR, and a consideration of the legacies and lasting impact of the declaration. This resource outlines key concepts, including the Universe of Obligation, presents a timeline outlining the process through which the UDHR was adopted, and includes multimedia resources such as this video. This collection also supports the Facing History and Ourselves resource book Fundamental Freedoms.
  • Fundamental Freedoms: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (book)

    Surveying Eleanor Roosevelt’s early years and then concentrating on her life-long commitment as an activist, Fundamental Freedoms  tells of Eleanor’s pivotal role in creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust.

    As demonstrated throughout all four parts of this resource, Eleanor was no ordinary person: she redefined the role of a first lady as she established her own career as a nationally-syndicated journalist and continually spoke out on behalf of the underprivileged. In 1945 after the death of her husband, President Franklin Roosevelt, she participated in the birth of the United Nations and embraced a new role, advocating across the globe for the rights she fought for at home. This resource examines Eleanor’s development into a diplomat and renowned human rights leader of the twentieth century, and shows the challenges and determination required to realize the UDHR.

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