America and The Utopian Dream    
Introduction Utopian Literature Dystopian Literature Utopian Communities  
pixel.gif

 

Utopias in America, from the first Puritan settlements to the communes of the 1960s, share the goal of removal from the heart of civilization to the wilderness in order to establish a new social order. Communities with European roots embraced the equalizing demands and freedoms of the New World’s open frontier, even as the new country claimed the pursuit of happiness as an inalienable right. Though their inspirations varied—theocracy, millenialism, socialism, theosophism, behaviorism—they all reflected the American dream of a better world, now.

The following pages introduce American utopias through literary works and manuscript collections in the Beinecke Library. From Thomas More’s famous Sixteenth Century work that introduced the word “Utopia” through Thoreau’s Walden to Neal Stephenson’s 1992 Snow Crash, writers of novels, essays, and political tracts addressed an imagined future in which human beings designed new ways to live in community. Illustrating the opposite view are a handful of dystopian novels such as Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, the 1953 portrayal of a world where the written word is forbidden.

Documentation of the utopian communities is drawn from two archival collections. The first, made by A. J. Macdonald during the Nineteenth Century, was assembled to support the research of John Humphrey Noyes, the founder of the Oneida Community and author of History of American Socialisms, 1870. From 1844 to 1854, Macdonald visited dozens of settlements and gathered interviews and community publications. In the 1960s, Paul Kagan assembled a collection of similar materials and photographs documenting communities from about 1910 to 1970. He published New World Utopias: A Photographic History of the Search for Community in 1975. The most recent work in the exhhibition, Kat Kinkade's book Is It Utopia Yet: An Insider’s View of Twin Oaks Community in Its 26th Year, was published in 1994 and is available at the community’s web site www.twinoaks.org.

pixel.gif