The film Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey provides an exciting introduction to the study of a broad range of topics and a resource to use in a variety of courses. The biography of this world-renown African-American diplomat and scholar brings much of the past century visibly to life through the use of documentary film footage, newspaper headlines, photographs, music, narration and commentary by historians. The film not only tells a fascinating story, but provides a fresh perspective on some of the major events of the post-World War II era. 3 or 4 days spent viewing and discussing the film would effectively pave the way for 2 or more weeks of extended study in the following areas:

In world history the film can be used to study the move to self-government and independence of colonial territories after World War II, the role of the UN in the maintenance of world peace, the advancement of human rights, global connections among nations and the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict to address the following standards from National Standards for World History:

Understands how post-World War II reconstruction occurred, new international power relations took shape, and colonial empires broke up

Understands the search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world

Understands major global trends since World War II

In United States history the film provides an excellent introduction to the Civil Rights Movement, African-American leaders and their ideas and strategies, and the globalization of the world to address the following standards from National Standards for United States History:

Understands the causes and course of World War II, the character of the war at home and abroad, and its reshaping of the U.S. role in world affairs

Understands the economic boom and social transformation of post-World War II United States

Understands how the Cold War and conflicts in Korea and Vietnam influenced domestic and international politics

Understands domestic policies in the post-World Ward II period

Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties

Understands economic, social and cultural developments in the contemporary United States

In geography the film can be used to introduce regional studies of the Middle East and Africa, global connections among nations and the role of the UN in the post-World War II world to address the following standards from Geography for Life: National Geography Standards:

Knows the location of places, geographic features and patterns of the environment

Understands the concept of regions

Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics

Understands the patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface

Understands the forces of cooperation and conflict that shape the divisions of Earth's surface

Understands global development and environmental issues

In civics and government the film can be used to introduce a study of the UN - its formation, mission, organization, and activities; U.S. foreign policy in the post World War II world; human rights and the Civil Rights Movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to address the following standards from National Standards for Civics and Government:

Understands the sources, purposes, and functions of law, and the importance of the rule of law for the protection of individual rights and the common good

Understands the role of diversity in American life and the importance of shared values, political beliefs, and civic beliefs in an increasingly diverse American society

Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity

Understands issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life

Understands how the world is organized politically into nation-states, how nation-states interact with one another, and issues surrounding U.S. foreign policy

In language arts the film can be used as an introduction to the literature of the Harlem Renaissance, the genre of protest literature, world literature of the post-World War II era or media literacy studies to address the following standards from Standards for English Language Arts:

Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts

Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts

Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media

Understands the characteristics and components of media


  1. Review the teaching strategies in this section and the material in other sections of this teacher's guide: Film Summary, Biography, Glossary of People, Terms and Events and Timeline. Also look at other sections of the Ralph Bunche website: Early Influences, Scholar Activist, Drive to Decolonize, The Peacemaker, Mr. UN, and The Man and The Myth. Decide how to fit the film into your curriculum. The topics and subject-area objectives listed above should help you find a fit.

  2. Develop a plan that will focus discussion of the film in areas that serve the purposes of your curriculum and teaching objectives.

  3. Identify reading materials for students in textbooks, resource books, handouts, and online sources listed under Recommended Reading and Online Resources on the Ralph Bunche site. Plan lectures and class discussions (for sample activities, see Classroom Activities on the Ralph Bunche site).

  4. Structure a research assignment or project for individual students or small groups of students. Direct students to library resources and the Internet to look for information related to the topic. Propose that students interview individuals in the community with personal experience or specific knowledge of the topic or subject being researched. Encourage students to invite one or more people from the community to visit the class to discuss the topic under consideration. Consider asking students to debate one or more of the controversial issues raised in the film.


Bunche's commitment to the cause of human rights and the dignity of all people is a central theme of the film. Focusing on this aspect of the film in post-screening discussion prepares students to undertake an in-depth study of human rights in the context of history, government, or geography classes. (Literature and language arts teachers could follow up the film by asking students to read selections from the body of literature that has given voice to human rights issues.) Studying human rights in the context of the film Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey would provide an opportunity for the student to make meaningful connections between historical events and contemporary issues. The activities outlined below develop an understanding of basic human rights and builds students' skills in locating, analyzing and interpreting new information. By focusing on today's human rights issues in a particular area, students engage one of the central problems in contemporary international relations and the need for continuing efforts to make human rights a reality for all people. The final assignment, creating a poster or some other visual display to share their research with fellow students, gives purpose to their investigation, leads them to create new knowledge, and challenges them to distill information in order to convey their ideas to others.



1. Discuss the film with emphasis on Bunche's human-rights philosophy, the founding of the UN, and his work on behalf of self-government and independence of colonized areas of the world after World War II.

2. Expand on the UN's goal of promoting human rights and on its peacekeeping and peacemaking roles. Hand out a copy of the Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed on December 10, 1948, or the preamble below, or ask students to go to the UN website. The preamble outlines the purposes of the Declaration.


Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

3. Discuss the preamble and specific articles in the Declaration of Human Rights. If time permits, you might want to compare the Declaration to the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of the United States, especially similarities and differences in voting rights.

4. Ask students to bring in current news stories dealing with human rights reported on television and in newspapers and news magazines. Give students time to investigate the background of a human rights news stories in the library and on the Internet. Discuss issues.

5. Have the class draw up a list of human rights violations that they have learned about in the news. Then ask students to pair up and choose one area to investigate in detail. Explain the assignment: each pair of students will become experts on one area of human rights violations at home or in other areas of the world and create a poster or other visual presentation that will convey their findings and their personal reactions/solutions to other members of the class.

6. To accomplish this, students will use newspapers, news magazines, books and websites, such as Amnesty Innternational , The United Nations, The UN Cyberschool Bus, and The Carter Center. Each of the websites provides status reports on various areas and a wealth of information about current efforts to address human rights concerns.

7. Suggest that students conduct interviews with individuals in the community or contact organizations that are involved in human rights issues to obtain information about their programs and activities.

8. Work with the pairs of students to monitor their progress and help them find good sources. Remind them that their goal is to create a poster or visual presentation that will allow them to share their findings with the rest of the class.

9. Work with the students in developing their posters or visual displays. Provide an opportunity for students to display their work in a public space. Give all students a chance to view and study the visual presentations. Conclude with a general class discussion of human rights and what efforts are underway to improve living conditions for people in America and around the world.

10. Some students may want to help, possibly by undertaking to raise funds to send to a human rights group such as Amnesty International or the Carter Center.



As news reports constantly remind us, the nations of the world are becoming more and more interdependent. Technology has eradicated distances through instantaneous communication. What happens in China and Africa has an impact on Europe and North America. Economies in the industrialized world reel when the price of a single commodity such as oil rises and falls. Instilling an understanding of our global connectedness is a paramount goal of courses in world history and geography. One key to help students understand our global connectedness is through a study of the United Nations: its history, mission, evolution and structure. Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey contextualizes the founding of the United Nations and the first two decades of the organization’s existence in the framework of Bunche’s life and work at the UN, providing an ideal lead into a study of the United Nation.

The goal of this teaching strategy is twofold and involves two separate but concurrent activities. Both involve working with small groups. The first activity will give students an opportunity to explore the structure of the UN by investigating one or more major organs or agencies of the UN in order to gain an understanding of the UN’s purposes and work. This activity will result in the creation by the class of a diagram of the United Nations. The second activity will focus on the current work of the UN by giving students the opportunity to follow one or more issues currently before the UN and finally to debate how effective the UN or the specific agency of the UN has been in resolving the problem


1. After the students have viewed the film, discuss the founding of the UN, why an international organization was so important to the victors after WWII and what its mission is today.

2. Hand out copies of the Preamble to the UN Charter or ask students to go to the United Nations Website.



  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom


    • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors, and
    • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
    • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
    • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,


Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.

3. To help students personalize the information, ask questions, such as the following:

    • Why do you think that nations who were political and/or economic rivals agreed to setting up an international organization that could limit their freedom in pursuing international policy?

    • Why do you think some governments and groups of people might oppose participation in the UN and object to following its direction and mandates?

4. Give the students time to discuss their opinions.

5. Discuss Bunche's role in the drafting of the UN Charter, his role as UN mediator in the Middle East to diffuse the Arab-Israeli conflict after the establishment of the nation of Israel and his work in Trusteeship. Focus on episodes in the film that clarify Bunche's role and his position at the UN.

6. Review the structure of the UN, its principal organs and agencies. Distinguish between the Secretariat, and the other organs of the UN such as the General Assembly and the Security Council. Explain the role of the Secretary-General. Use textbooks or other sources such as the "UN in Brief" booklet that can be ordered from the UN or downloaded from its web site: This booklet gives an excellent overview of the organs of the UN; its work in disarmament, peacemaking, peace-building and peacekeeping.

7. Divide the class into groups and assign, or let students choose, to research one of the six principal organs of the UN: Secretariat, General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, International Court of Justice, and Trusteeship Council. Other groups might choose to investigate intergovernmental agencies such as UNESCO, WHO, UNICEF, IAEA, or various subsidiary bodies such as the Human Rights Commission.

8. Direct the class to textbooks and reference works in the library or on the Internet to look for information on the purpose and activities of the organs and agencies they have agreed to investigate. Explain that after they complete their research, the class will construct a large chart showing the organization of the UN and the relationship and function of each organ. Also assign each group to identify an issue in the news that the UN is currently involved in. Explain that the class will discuss the issues and the current work of the UN to evaluate its effectiveness.

9. Assign each group a second task, that of identifying an issue in the news that the UN is currently involved in, explaining that the class will discuss the various issues and the current work of the UN in order to evaluate its effectiveness in resolving international problems. Maker sure that they choose at least one conflict situation involving the use of force

10. Install a wall-sized blank chart using butcher paper or poster paper on which the students can post the results of their research on the various organs and agencies of the UN and on which they can draw a complete diagram of the UN.

11. Work with groups to help them keep focused on the area they have been assigned to work on. Discuss how the diagram will look and let the class make decisions about its design. Suggest ways they can summarize and display their work.

12. While they continue to work on the chart, help each group make progress on following the specific issue they have selected that is currently before the UN.

13. As they work on each activity, provide an opportunity for various groups to share what they are learning with the entire class.

14. Have the groups complete their research on the UN structure, post the results on the chart and review their findings with the class. The discussion should give the entire class a good overview of how the UN is structured and how it works.

15. Conclude the research on issues currently before the UN with a presentation by each group of the pros and cons of the issue they have been following and their conclusion as to how effectively the UN is achieving its aims.

16. If it fits your teaching objectives, you might suggest that the group write a letter to the head of the section or agency they studied, or to the Secretary General, offering their suggestions about an issue that the UN is dealing with, or commenting on the effectiveness or importance of the UN today.

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