LITR 5439 Literary & Historical Utopias

lecture notes

Introductory meeting


explain windows, boxes on website



I will email posting of a beginning presentation schedule to students before next clas. Welcome to suggest changes or raise problems. Adjustments are always possible.



Nature of seminar topic

What's your familiarity with topic of utopian literature?

In American schools, subject mostly approached negatively, through "dystopias" or "satirical utopias" like 1984, Brave New World, or Lord of the Flies.








How to know Thomas More

1. Saint in Catholic Church (1935) (lawyer for Henry VIII; resisted English church's separation from Rome)

2. subject of 1966 film / play A Man for All Seasons

3. Renaissance man / Christian Humanist

4. Author of Utopia (1516) 



Christian Humanism

Thomas More is often characterized as a "Christian Humanist," Renaissance tradition or school of thought

Other examples:

Erasmus, Dutch theologian and philosopher, opponent of Luther

John Milton, Paradise Lost 

William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation


"Christian" and "Humanist" more often seen today as two opposing sides in "culture wars"

But opposition isn't essential, though always tensions

productive to regard as two essential traditions in western civilization

Utopia is not Christian but not exactly Pagan either--note insistence on their belief in afterlife as foundation of morality



Utopia: Your Virtual Life



roundtable discussion

Identify self, where you are in graduate studies, teaching or research interests

Comment or question on course objective, author, text.

What previous familiarity or reading in subject? Questions?


welcome, syllabus, webpage



webpage mostly used for convenience, formal presentations and web-reviews


review assignments

1-2 student presentations per student

2-3 student presentations daily


final exam

+ research postings


nature of 5-wks grad course

downsides of schedule: 

If you're slow starting or distracted, not much time to recover.

Few opportunities for extended out-of-class research

schedule forces selection of shorter texts, when many 


upsides of schedule: (or, making silk purse from sow's ear)

3 meetings per week: not much time to forget (until class is over)

intensive study, concentration

classroom-intensive course: impossible to manage traditional lecture-discussion for 9 hours a week, so good chance to force-grow some student leadership, cooperative learning

pleasure of working, sharing with peers (also danger of irritation in intensive contact)

gain quick immersion in unusual but promising subject matter

summer school often has many teachers: utopia a good teaching subject, with appeal beyond Literature or English majors