American Studies 430.02
American Visions of Utopia
Roger Williams University
Tuesday and Friday
2:00-3:20  GHH 206
Michael R. H. Swanson, Ph. D
Office:  GHH 215
Phone:  (254) 3230
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For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with. We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, "may the Lord make it like that of New England."
John Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity, aboard the ship Arabella, 1630
The idea of Utopia, an ideal society, has been with us from the beginning.  Some of you may have read the  above Model in Core 102, and it stated the principles upon which the Massachusetts Bay Colony was to have been founded.  We often speak of “The American Dream”: but the content of that dream has changed through the years, and perhaps it would always have been better to think of plural dreams.  As we shall see in this course, people have joined together to create alternative communities, based on different beliefs of perfection throughout the country’s history, down to the present day.  These have taken many forms.  For example at one time, two very different models of community were flourishing: one based on chastity and equality of men and women, the other believing in “group marriage,” everyone who lived in the community was married to everyone else in the community, and a committee decided which pairs should produce children. 

The objective of this course is to explore these visions...see what they have in common with each other, as well, as how they disagree, to note enduring themes and variations on them, and perhaps to create our own visions of American Utopia.
Books for the Course.
There are four books for the course.  If you picked up three in the bookstore, you did the right thing.  One of the books is available online, for free.  You may either read it online, or download a copy, or both.  If you wish to purchase it, you can do that, too.  Most online bookstores carry it.  Two of them are books of readings, and two of them are novels.
Howells, William Dean, A Traveler from Altruria (1908 edition) Free. 
Pitzer,  Donald E. America’s Communal Utopias (1997)
University Of North Carolina Press

Fairfield, Richard, The Modern Utopian: Alternative Communities of the '60s and '70s
Process Press (2010)

Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia (Novel)
  Heyday/Banyan Tree Books (2004)
The descriptions of the first three taken from


This is for your benefit (I hope) and even more for the benefit of your colleagues in this class.  You can’t teach them from your unique perspective unless you’re with them, and they will lose the benefit of your critique of ideas they put forth if you’re not there to put those critiques on the table.

Pledge of Academic Integrity.
You will remember this from your freshman convocation:
We, the undergraduate students of Roger Williams University, commit ourselves to academic integrity. We promise to pursue the highest ideals of academic life, to challenge ourselves with the most rigorous standards, to be honest in any academic endeavor, to conduct ourselves responsibly and honorably, and to assist one another as we live and work together in mutual support.
This pledge is as Utopian an ideal as one can imagine.  Notice that plural pronouns throughout.  Each year when I go to the Convocation, I recite this pledge under my breath, changing only the words “undergraduate students” to “faculty”– because it applies to us, as well.  I’m looking forward very much to this course.

Welcome to our Utopian educational experience.
Work for the Course
Attendance Policy