Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Cited by 573
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
June 2012
Print publication year:
Online ISBN:

Book description

In 1900 W. E. B. DuBois prophesied that the colour line would be the key problem of the twentieth-century and he later identified one of its key dynamics: the new religion of whiteness that was sweeping the world. Whereas most historians have confined their studies of race-relations to a national framework, this book studies the transnational circulation of people and ideas, racial knowledge and technologies that under-pinned the construction of self-styled white men's countries from South Africa, to North America and Australasia. Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds show how in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century these countries worked in solidarity to exclude those they defined as not-white, actions that provoked a long international struggle for racial equality. Their findings make clear the centrality of struggles around mobility and sovereignty to modern formulations of both race and human rights.


Joint winner of the [Australian] Prime Minister's Literary Award for Non-Fiction 2009

Winner of the Ernest Scott Prize for History 2009

Winner of Queensland Premier's Prize for History 2009


‘This book by two of Australia's most respected historians is a tour de force. Weaving their narrative through global debates to do with race and human rights in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Lake and Reynolds have crafted a story that brings together - into one shared context - developments in Australia, the United States, China, Japan, Africa, India, and elsewhere. This is an exemplary exercise in transnational history.’

Dipesh Chakrabarty - University of Chicago and author of Provincializing Europe

‘Astonishing in its range of research, Drawing the Global Colour Line shows convincingly that farflung expressions of white solidarity entered a definitive new stage in the early twentieth century as a result of consultations, conferences and concerted actions among political-economic and intellectual elites in the Anglo-American settler colonial world. Such interactions, captured in all of their telling human detail, expressed hubris but also bespoke panic at the prospect that white supremacy was slipping away. By reinterpreting race, this critically important study reorients our understanding of the whole story of the twentieth century.’

David Roediger - University of Illinois, author of Working Towards Whiteness

A work remarkable both for its international breadth and for its sensitivity to local ‘particularity, is a model for the new transnational history. Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds expertly and imaginatively reconstruct how leading white intellectuals and politicians in turn of the century Australia, South Africa, the United States, and Great Britain fought demands for racial equality and jointly invented new doctrines of racial superiority to justify the maintenance and, in some cases, the reinvigoration of white privilege in every part of the world that Britain either controlled or in which it had once deposited its settlers. A powerful and sobering history, incisively and elegantly told.’

Gary Gerstle - Vanderbilt University

“This exceptionally ambitious and important book confirms and gives fresh meaning to W. E. B. DuBois’s famous declaration that the problem of the twentieth century was the ‘problem of the colour line’. By tracing the efforts by ruling elites in the United States, Australia, and other Anglo settler states in the early twentieth century to forge self-proclaimed ‘white men’s countries’ by means of racial segregation and immigration restrictions, Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds demonstrate that their assertions of ‘whiteness’ were a transnational phenomenon, responding to the threats that migrant labor, colonial nationalism, and other forces seemed to pose to the established order. Their rich and compellingly written work provides us with a model of how to write history that transcends the nation, and it speaks to issues that remain relevant today.'

Dane Kennedy - Elmer Louis Kayser Professor of History and International Affairs, Department of History, George Washington University

'An exceptional study that could find a place even in the classroom, Drawing the Global Colour Line should command attention from historians, sociologists, and political scientists alike.'

Source: The Journal of Interdisciplinary History

'This is an important book, for colonial and imperial historians, world historians, Australian, New Zealand, South African, Canadian, US, Chinese and Japanese historians, and for scholars of human rights. Simply listing this scope of readership indicates the vast scope of the book and the multiple terrains across which it ranges. … This book is exemplary in demonstrating how interconnected history writing can transcend the limitations of, and add explanatory power to, both nationally focused and traditionally comparative histories.'

Source: The American Historical Review

'Drawing the Global Colour Line is a landmark work of transnational history. In the book two outstanding Australian historians – Marilyn Lake, who has been a leading figure in the development of feminist history, and Henry Reynolds, who has been pre-eminent in exploring the grim history of the colonial destruction of the aboriginals – break new ground, both methodologically and substantively. They provide us with a truly global history of racial politics at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. … Overall, this is a stunningly good book, written with a clarity and directness which is all too rare in contemporary academic prose.'

Source: The Journal of Global History

'… a truly unparalleled form of transnational history, one which operates from the archives of white settler colonies (North America included), only to reveal the provincialism of that vantage point, most notably by taking seriously the challenges posed by a variety of 'Asian' actors - from Chinese migrants to Japanese imperialists to Gandhi himself. This is a once-in-a-generation book, a must-read for students of empire, international politics, critical race studies and global history.'

Source: The International History Review

'Drawing the Global Colour Line forces us to reconceptualize the discursive and institutional development of whiteness as simultaneously nationally grounded and globally mobile. Scholars striving to extend the study of the geographies of empire, race, and whiteness, in particular, should find considerable inspiration in the approach marshaled so successfully herein.'

Source: H-HistGeog

Refine List

Actions for selected content:

Select all | Deselect all
  • View selected items
  • Export citations
  • Download PDF (zip)
  • Save to Kindle
  • Save to Dropbox
  • Save to Google Drive

Save Search

You can save your searches here and later view and run them again in "My saved searches".

Please provide a title, maximum of 40 characters.


  • 1 - The coming man: Chinese migration to the goldfields
    pp 15-46


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Book summary page views

Total views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between #date#. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.