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Teaching Guide: Exploring the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Look closely at the image of egalité and explain some of the symbols and allegorical elements in the image.
  2. Look at the text of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. How does this document embody the French Revolution ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity? Categorize the main points of the Declaration itself into these three ideas. What concepts from the Declaration are left out?
  3. The Magna Carta, Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, the Virginia Bill of Rights, and the US Bill of Rights all contributed to the ideas found in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Choose one of the contributing documents and describe what particular ideas the document offered to the Declaration. Cite specific textual evidence that links the document to the Declaration.
  4. The Virginia Bill of Rights states that “all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights.” It was passed and adopted at a time when Virginians (and many of the framers and signers of this document) were enslaving people of African descent. What questions does this document raise about the United States’s involvement in the “peculiar institution” of slavery?
  5. Trace the ideals of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the events of the Seneca Falls Convention, the letter from Ho Chi Minh, and the “US Human Rights Policy Toward Africa.” How do ideals of the Declaration still permeate governments and societies around the world today?

Classroom activities

Ask students to create a public-service video describing the origins, content, and legacy of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, including information about how it is still applicable today. Ask students to include specific textual evidence from a variety of sources in this set. Challenge students to incorporate historical information and contemporary relevance while keeping the video under a sixty- or ninety-second time limit.

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