Academic awarded (Issue 21, 2009)

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La Trobe Professor Marilyn Lake

La Trobe University historian Professor Marilyn Lake shares Australia’s top literary prize – jointly winning the non-fiction category in the Prime Minister's Literary Awards.

Selected from a wide range of non-fiction including biography, memoir, travel writing, literary studies and history, Drawing the Global Colour Line was co-written with Professor Henry Reynolds from the University of Tasmania.

‘At last a history of Australia in its dynamic global context,’ was how the award citation described the book.

At a time when public debate rages anew about response to asylum seekers, it noted: ‘Drawing the Global Colour Line offers a new perspective on the history of human rights and provides compelling and original insight into the international political movements that shaped the twentieth century.’

It added that by using ‘a rich cast of characters’, the book tells a ‘gripping story about the circulation of emotions and ideas, books and people in which Australia emerged as a pace-setter in the modern global politics of whiteness’. It described the work as ‘remarkable for the breadth of its research and its engaging narrative.’ 

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in response to the mobilisation and mobility of colonial and coloured peoples around the world, self-styled ‘white men’s countries’ in South Africa, North America and Australasia worked in solidarity to exclude those peoples they defined as not-white – including Africans, Chinese, Indians, Japanese and Pacific Islanders. Their policies provoked in turn a long international struggle for racial equality. The book opens with the arrival of Lowe Kong Meng in Melbourne in 1853, one of a number of significant arrivals in Australian history that would lead to early claims for recognition of Chinese colonists ‘common human rights’.

The book, launched by former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in March 2008, has received widespread acclaim, including last year’s Queensland Premier’s History Book Prize and the University of Melbourne’s prestigious Ernest Scott History Prize. It has also been favourably reviewed overseas, the International History Review judging it a ‘once-in-a-generation book’.

Through its School of Historical and European Studies, La Trobe offers a number of specialities, including Women's Studies and Gender Relations and Early and Modern European History.