Nation, Race, Rights and the New World Order: 1945-1966

People Involved

Professor Glenda Sluga

Project overview

This project examines the history of the ideas of nation, race, and rights at the end of the Second World War, a time when disillusionment with the racialist thought and nationalist excesses that had led to the Holocaust inspired plans for a new world order based on human rights and international government.

It is a project taken up at a time when the UN, the focus of that new world order, has become the object of significant criticism, and attempts at reform. Consequently one of its aims is to understand the UN and its ongoing relevance from the perspective of its formative period.

Project details

By the end of the Second World War, it had become difficult for scientists to legitimately espouse assumptions about unequal racial and national differences.

Apart from changes in scientific thinking, as Elazar Barkan has noted, 'the opposition to Nazism shaped in a dramatic fashion the refutation of racism as a legitimate intellectual stance' (345). Further, as historians are increasingly uncovering, in the post-Second World War anti-racist and human rights thought made racial discrimination within nations an international matter.

Yet race-thinking in this period still permeated international relations. In 1945 W.E.B. Du Bois - by then in his 70s - described the 'color-line' dividing the world and warned against its perpetuation in the new era of international relations inaugurated by the creation of the United Nations.

Du Bois' caution carried the earmarks of both the utopianism that accompanied the end of the Second World War regarding the prospect for overcoming racism, and the obstacles in the path of change. It also provides us with a point of continuity to an earlier period of postwar optimism regarding questions of democracy and equality at the end of the First World War.

My research and analysis of the ideas of nation, race and rights is organized around three thematic sections which draw on the archives, memories, and monographs that record the planning and creation of a new post-Second World War world order focused on the United Nations:

  1. Nation, Race, Rights, and the New World Order.
  2. Human Rights and Human Diversity
  3. The Race Question

The historical approach I utilise in this study contrasts with conventional scholarship on the United Nations, which tends to either isolate the agency of political figures, or offer institutional analyses that decontextualise and depopulate policy and processes. This history will emphasise both the broad cultural context in which political ideas emerge, and the agency of individuals who adopt and adapt those ideas in their own writing and policy-making, in particular: UNESCO's Director-General Julian Huxley, who rejected racial determinism, and adopted biological humanism; Ralph Bunche, an African-American who was head of the Trusteeship Division within the UN Secretariat, UN Undersecretary, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize; Ellen Wilkinson, who was President of the Preparatory Commission for UNESCO, and whose disillusionment with the new world order has been associated with her premature death; Alva Myrdal, head of the social sciences division of UNESCO who made her professional reputation in the postwar as a sociologist of nation, class, and gender, as well as acting as a top-ranking director of the Department of Social Affairs in the UN Secretariat, and, like Bunche, a Nobel Prize winner; Rene Cassin, a French Jewish Jurist who thought of himself as a man of 'three frontiers' because his birth place was the Basses-Pyrenees, and who was an important member of the Drafting Committee on Human Rights; Herbert Vere Evatt, who was involved in the Preparatory Commission for the creation of the UN, the Trusteeship Council, and was President of the UN General Assembly in 1948; and the Australian feminist and pacifist Jessie Street, delegate to the San Francisco Preparatory Conference and to the Status of Women Commission.


This project is supported by an ARC Discovery Project Grant, 2005-7

Selected Publications

‘Gender Images and the New World Order: On the European Debates of an International Peace Order after the First World War’ in J. Davy, K. Hagemann, & U. Katzel (eds), Pacifists/Pacifism: Peace and Conflict Research as Gender Research (Klartext, Essen) 2005.

Brief Profiles

Over the past few years Glenda Sluga has been successful in introducing cultural and gender analysis to areas of international history and the history of diplomacy and peacemaking, subjects which until recently were relatively immune to such approaches. Anthony Smith, perhaps the leading authority on nationalism, has described her analysis of the gendered nature of nations and nationalist ideologies as ‘a penetrating historical investigation’ [Nationalism and Modernism (Routledge, 1998), 209].
Full Profile