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Steven Hoelscher, Chair Burdine 437, Mailcode B7100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-7277

Anne Gessler

Doctoral Student



B.A. American Studies, College of William and Mary
M.A. American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin


cooperative development, gentrification, urban social movements

AMS 311S • American Utopia

30840 • Fall 2014
Meets MWF 1100am-1200pm BUR 228
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While we as Americans prize our individualism, the competing values of collectivity and community-based cooperation have also influenced American political and social thought since our country's inception.  Our class examines the cultural history of communitarian movements, in which groups motivated by necessity or political idealism band together to live, work, and worship together.  Studying utopias reveals the dynamic ways in which Americans have sought to transform our society.  We will analyze a series of utopian intentional communities, including 18th century black religious colonies in Nova Scotia, religious communalism as expressed by the Shakers, social reformist experiments such as Fanny Wright's Nashoba and Robert Owens' New Harmony Colony, Louisiana's post-Civil War Freedmen colonies, the Edward Bellamy-inspired socialist collectives of turn-of-the-century Washington State, Southern New Deal collective farms, 1970s countercultural communes, and modern alternative communities. To better understand the intellectual currents framing our case studies, we will read selections from influential utopian theorists and novelists such as Charles Fourier, Robert Owen, John Humphrey Noyes, Edward Bellamy, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Margaret Piercy, and Gloria Anzaldúa.  Further, we will study historical and contemporary popular songs, images, newspapers, novels, manifestos, and films to ground our discussion of utopian communities in the American imagination. 

As an American Studies course, this class will study a variety of sources and employ a range of interdisciplinary methods from American studies, sociology, anthropology, women’s and gender studies, cultural studies, religious studies, and a range of other disciplines to ask, why have Americans joined communal experiments?  How are utopian communities represented in American popular culture?  How do they intersect other religious and social movements such as the Second Great Awakening, Populism, the Civil Rights Movement, and Occupy Wall Street?  And, finally, how utopian experiments altered the country's physical, political, social, and economic landscapes? 



Weekly writing exercises                                             10%

Primary document analysis paper (3-5 pages)                   25%

Critical response paper (3-5 pages)                                25%

Final research paper (8-10 pages)                                  30% 

Class participation and attendance                                  10%


Possible Texts

Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands

Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland

Paul E. Johnson, Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th-Century America           

Course Reader


Flag(s): Writing



Gessler, Anne.

“Review: Sharon Zukin’s Naked City.”  E3W Review of Books 2 (Spring 2012).

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