HL97: Utopias and Dystopias in U.S. and the World

Instructors: Paul Adler and Mike D’Alessandro
Meeting time: Wednesday, 2-5

This class will examine the United States’ social, cultural, economic, and political dreams and nightmares from the turn of the twentieth century to speculative futures. We will do so from  transnational perspectives, discussing the utopias and dystopias imagined by writers of all backgrounds and views without incorporating how they found inspiration and terror in looking at other societies. We will investigate traditional examples of utopias and dystopias--from planned communes to futuristic totalitarian regimes--at the same time that we will test the boundaries of utopian and dystopian definitions.

 Throughout, we will ask  questions of these genres such as: how have utopian and dystopian stories illuminated fears around changing economic structures, gender dynamics, and race relations? In what ways do utopias and dystopias offer insight into ideals of individualism and fears of conformity? What aspects of United States history have unfolded as real-life utopias and dystopias? And how distinct are the concepts of utopia and dystopia? We will explore these questions through a wide range of texts, from novels to films to manifestos to plays to sermons.