Literary & Historical Utopias: Homepage & Syllabus
Instructor: Craig White Office:
Bayou 2529-8 Phone: 281 283
Thomas More, Utopia (1516)
Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (1888)
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (1915)
Ayn Rand, Anthem (1938)
Genesis, Revelation, & Book of Acts (BCE > 1st century AD/CE)
Plato's Republic & Golden Age myths
selections from other classical, multicultural, & postmodern texts
Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia (1975)
Midterm 25 June (in-class or email) (app. 30-40%)
Research Postings (2 installments + review in final exam) (20-30%)
Final exam 9 July (30-40%)
Transmitting your passages electronically:
Seminar leadership, participation, attendance, etc.
Terms & Objectives
“Utopia” has either historical or literary significance, or both:
Utopia = an experimental community
intended to reform or escape from normal human society, often by substituting
planning, cooperation, or collective values and practices in place of
laissez-faire, competition, and individualism.
Utopia = a novel describing life in such a community or world.
The word “utopia” comes from the title of Sir Thomas More’s utopian novel / tract of 1516, Utopia. The word is made up of Greek parts, formed either from
ou (no) + topos (place, as in “topography”) to mean “no place,”
eu (good, as in “euphoria”) + topos (place) to mean “good place.”
The term “utopia” has been varied, especially in two ways:
Dystopia = a society that is opposite from a utopia, or a utopia that’s gone dysfunctional. “Any utopia is someone else's dystopia.”
Ecotopia = Ecological Utopia, a community whose collective health is based on a close imitation of nature’s interconnectivity. Term comes from our final text, Ecotopia, a utopian novel from 1975 by Ernest Callenbach.
Millennium is usually a synonym or euphemism for apocalypse, but often with a softer or more metaphorical tone.
List of Utopian Communities and Texts
Standard features of utopian / dystopian literature
Objective 1. the Utopian Genre
1a. How to define the literary genre of “utopias?” What are the genre's standard conventions or features? What attractions and repulsions? What audiences are involved or excluded?
1b. What different genres join with or branch from utopia? Examples: dystopia, ecotopia, Socratic dialogue, journalism / tract / propaganda, satire, science fiction, fantasy, novel / romance, adventure / travel narrative. Others?
1c. Can utopias join science fiction, speculative fiction, and allied genres in a “literature of ideas?”
1d. To identify the utopian author both within and beyond traditional literary categories--e.g., as activist, agitator, reformer, prophet / visionary?
1e. Utopian Rhetoric: Utopia as persuasive literature--If literature should entertain and educate, what about fiction written to change the world?
Objective 2. Utopian Narratives
2a. What kinds of stories rise from or fit the description of an ideal or dystopian community?--e. g., journey, learning, conversion, liberation?
2b. What problems rise from a utopian story that minimizes conflict and maximizes equality and harmony? What genre variations derive from these problems with plot?
2c. What tensions between the author’s description of a social theory and the reader’s demand for a story?
2d. How essential is “millennialism” (apocalyptic or end-time event) to the utopian narrative?
Objective 3. Historical / Cultural Objectives
Obj. 3 Not to regard utopias as “never happened” or “castles in the sky” but as literary and historical experiments essential to Western Civilization. Utopian forms may mirror or oppose social norms.
3a.To investigate historical, nonfiction attempts by “communes,” “intentional communities,” nations or cults to institutionalize or practice utopian ideals.
3b.Are utopian impulses limited to socialism and communism, or may freemarket capitalism also express itself in utopian terms and visions? Is utopia “progressive / liberal” or “reactionary / conservative?” What relations between “self and other” are modeled?
3c. In postmodern history, is the utopian impulse extinct? Can utopian ideals survive the postmodern universal of irony?
3d. What relations are there between fictional and actual utopian communities? What has been the historical impact of utopian fictions?
3e. How seriously to evaluate gender roles and standards of sexual and love relationships in utopian communities? How do these differ from or resemble traditional norms? How essential are such changes to their intended transformation of society?
3f. What social structures, units, or identities does utopia expose or frustrate?
3g. What is utopia’s relation to time and history?
3h. Since our major texts are all set in North America, how do Americans regard utopias? What problems does the USA’s culture present for discussing utopian issues? Contexts:
3i. How may utopias exemplify multiculturalism or monoculturalism?
Objective 4. Interdisciplinary Objectives
4a. What academic subjects or disciplines are involved with utopian studies? Examples: literature, history, sociology, economics, architecture, urban planning?
4b. How may utopian or millennial studies serve as an interdisciplinary subject of study? What strengths and weaknesses result from this status? (Comparable interdisciplinary subjects include women’s studies, gender studies, ethnic studies [e. g., African American studies, whiteness studies], future studies, millennialism.)
4c. Do some interdisciplinary subjects underprivilege multiculturalism? Do utopian studies privilege western civilization?
4c. Is “utopia” too simple and singular a word or concept for the variety of phenomena it describes? Conversely, what does utopia reveal about an author’s or culture’s cosmology or worldview, as well as cosmogonies or origin / creation stories?
4d. How do literature and literacy appear in utopian or dystopian cultures? Include computer literacy: What is a “virtual utopia” in science fiction and technology? How has utopian speculation, communication, and organization adapted to the Web? How does the Web itself assume utopian or millennial attributes?
Objective 5. Instructional Objectives
5a. How may a seminar classroom serve as a microcosm, model, or alternative for American culture? How does use of web instruction alter social dynamics?
5b. What does utopian / dystopian literature instruct us about education?
5c. What difficulties does utopian instruction typically present?
5d. To evaluate teaching and learning methods for special course content
Reading, meeting, and presentation schedule
Monday, 8 June: introduction: preview objectives, assignments, & presentations
Readings: Genesis & Revelation; The Golden Age; Plato's Republic
Tuesday, 9 June: continue course introduction; begin Utopia
Readings: Thomas More, Utopia (1516)--read through book 1 & start book 2
Discussion starter for Book 1: Felicia Byrd
Web review: Thomas More sites on course webpage: Katie Breaux
Thursday, 11 June: conclude Utopia; begin Looking Backward
Readings: complete Thomas More, Utopia (1516); Walter Bellamy, Looking Backward through chapter 6
Discussion starter for Book Two of Utopia: Cana Hauerland
Web review: Edward Bellamy sites on course webpage: instructor
Roundtable: Students ask questions, propose possible topics for Historical Presentations
Monday, 15 June: complete Looking Backward
Readings: Looking Backward (complete)
Discussion-starter: Mary K. Boudreaux
Web review: 19th-Century American Utopias: Julie Bollich
Tuesday, 16 June: begin Herland (through chapter 6)
Discussion-starter: Bridget Yvette Brantley
Web review: Charlotte Perkins Gilman sites: Amy Sidle
Web review: Ayn Rand biography, institutes, ideology: Kathryn Vitek
Thursday, 18 June: conclude Herland
Discussion-starter: Courtney Heintzelman
Web review: Celebration USA: Felicia Byrd
Instructor's review: Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time
First research posting due weekend of 19-21 June
Monday, 22 June: begin Anthem
Readings: Anthem, through chapter VII
Discussion-starter: Amy Sidle
Web review: Twin Oaks & Los Horcones: Mallory Rogers
Instructor reviews behaviorist utopias: B.F. Skinner, Walden Two (1948) + Thaler & Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008)
Tuesday, 23 June: conclude Anthem
Readings: Anthem (complete)
Discussion-starter: Mary Boudreaux: Do American curricula emphasize dystopias? + other topics
Web review: Suburbs as Utopia: LaKisha Jones
Instructor reviews Francis Bacon, The New Atlantis (1623, 1627)
Thursday, 25 June: midterm
Monday, 29 June: Founding Utopias
Readings: selections from
Genesis, the Book of Acts, and Revelation
Plato’s Republic & USA founding documents
Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations
Discussion-starter: Kathryn Vitek (2-3 texts?)
Web review: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists: Bridget Yvette Brantley
Tuesday, 30 June: Multicultural utopias & millennia?
Readings: selections from
selections from African American slave narratives
Dr. King’s Dream Speech: Discussion-starter: Katie Breaux
Speech by Chief Seattle Discussion-starter: Mallory Rogers
"Messiah Letter" of Wovoka / Jack Wilson
Web review: Kibbutzim of Israel: Joshua Schuetz
Thursday, 2 July: begin Ecotopia
Readings: Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia (1976), at least through p. 66 (up to "Decline without Fall? The Ecotopian Population Challenge")
Discussion-starter: LaKisha Jones
Web review: Ernest Callenbach sites on course webpage
Second research posting due by Friday, 3 July, 9pm
Monday, 6 July: alternative utopias
Readings: handout pages from Toni Morrison’s Paradise (1999); Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash (1992); Dennis Danvers's Circuit of Heaven (1998)
Discussion-starter: Joshua Schuetz (Paradise)
Web review: Jonestown: Mary Boudreaux
Tuesday, 7 July: conclude Ecotopia
Readings: Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia (1976), complete
Discussion-starter: Julie Bollich
Web review: Auroville: Cana Hauerland
Thursday, 9 July: final exam due by Friday, 10 July
syllabus from LITR 5733 Seminar in American Culture: Utopias (1995)