Center for Historical Interpretation
Department of History, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Year II of a three-year program of conversations and events on the ways utopia has been imagined, interpreted, and practiced globally. For information about the on-going Global Utopias Reading Group, see "Readings."
--Global Utopias Project Research Guide available here. --
Utopia concerns some of the most pressing questions about human life, past and present, including justice and injustice, freedom and its absence, the individual and the community, diversity, values and ethics, and the meanings of happiness and suffering. What “utopia” and “dystopia” have long brought to these issues is the effort to think and act beyond the ordinary and normative, to think and act “outside of the box” of what we assume are the limits of the possible and impossible.
In the face of claims that we live in a post-utopian age, when past dreams of a perfected life have turned out to be nightmares or too impossibly unreal to continue to contemplate, arguments about the value (even indispensability) of utopia for critical thinking and practice have experienced a renaissance across disciplines and in popular culture. The utopian impulse (and dystopia as a consequence and critique) can be found in every human society, past and present, connected to a wide range of concerns in politics, economics, society, science, technology, and culture.
Explicitly utopian texts like Thomas More’s original Utopia only scratch the surface of this world of ideas and practices, which include imagining perfected societies or golden ages (or the dystopic results of such visions and attempts); creating alternative and experimental “intentional communities”; building political, social, cultural, and religious movements; but also the huge variety of everyday practices that challenge the conditions of the present with what a philosopher of utopia has famously called the “utopian impulse”—including in popular culture, literature, art, architecture, music, advertising, consumption, and more. Utopia is global also in involving the movement of people, ideas, and goods across many boundaries; envisioning a transformed “new world”; challenging (or idealizing) global systems such as colonialism; and offering local alternatives to globalizing structures and relationships.
Year I (2014-15): Conceptualizing. Ways utopia/dystopia have been imagined and interpreted globally—esp. as “history.” Coordinated by Mark Steinberg firstname.lastname@example.org, assisted by Mark Sanchez email@example.com.
Year II (2015-2016): Practices and Materialities. We are exploring (subject to your ideas and the evolution of our collective thinking) the ways everyday life has been a site for imagining and creating alternatives to dominant practices, past and present, and in the utopian/dystopian/heterotopian aspects of spaces, architecture, festivals, revolutionary movements, intentional communities, music, display, sexualities, and other material practices. While Year I focused on theories and conceptualizations, Year II focuses on the paradoxical unity of utopian desire and everyday practice, abstraction and materiality, impulse and enactment, impossible otherness and real viability – in the past and the present. Coordinated by Mark Steinberg firstname.lastname@example.org, assisted by Deirdre Ruscitti Harshman email@example.com.
Year III (2016-2017): Environments. (Details to come.)
· A faculty and graduate-student reading group, meeting regularly to discuss interpretive, comparative, and theoretical studies of utopia/dystopia across disciplines and across the world, but also primary texts, including political writings, literature, scientific and technological plans, and visual works. During this coming year the focus will shift conceptualizing and defining utopia to practices and materializations. See Reading tab above for current information and notes on past discussions.
· A graduate curriculum development workshop, helping graduate students develop syllabi on this theme, or incorporating this theme within other rubrics.
· A professional development workshop for local/regional public school teachers that will bring faculty and K-12 educators together to discuss this topic, classroom strategies and materials, and how to incorporate international thinking about utopia (and its practices) into the school curriculum. (Details on the workshop in May 2015 can be seen the menu above)
· Projects associated with the new undergraduate history “Source Lab.”
· Development of a resources website with the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library of the University.
· Various public events, including films, speakers, performances, etc.
IDEAS, SUGGESTIONS, AND PARTICIPATION IN ANY WAY ARE WELCOME. Contact Mark Steinberg at firstname.lastname@example.org