After the Second World War, an Australian diplomat was one of eight people to draft the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. And in the years that followed, Australians of many different stripes—including activists fighting for Aboriginal rights and women’s rights, communists, and even anticommunists—invoked human rights in their respective political struggles. Yet, despite these Australians’ embrace of human rights, the Australian government didn’t sign the Declaration of Human Rights until 1972, and then it took even longer to ratify it.
Australia’s ambiguous relationship with human rights is precisely what Jon Piccini untangles in his fascinating, deeply researched book, Human Rights in Twentieth-Century Australia (Cambridge University Press, 2019). By exploring these many different groups’ invocation of human rights, Piccini, a faculty member at the Australian Catholic University, is able to show how ideas and language can circulate even across ideological divisions. This book should be read by those interested in the global history of ideas and human rights, Australian political and social historians, along with those like me, who know little about Australia but would like to learn a lot more.
Dexter Fergie is a PhD student of US and global history at Northwestern University. He is currently researching the 20th century geopolitical history of information and communications networks. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @DexterFergie.
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