Skip to Main Content
Skidmore College
First-Year Experience

Scribner Seminar Program
Course Description

American Utopias

Instructor(s): Nicholas Junkermann, English

The longing for a perfect place is an old story in America. For centuries women, men and children have dreamed of ways to transform the land (or at least some small part of it) into a utopia. In this class we will explore some of these American utopias by studying a wide range of materials, including manifestos, drawings, newspaper articles, novels, films and architecture. We will think about these utopias as imaginary spaces—as worlds that emerge from dreams, plans and visions. We will ask what social and political problems utopian dreamers work to solve, and who is included and excluded from their vision of the new community. At the same time, we will not forget that utopias are imagined in the world, in space (after all, the root of the word is from the Greek tópos—place). Therefore, throughout the semester we will study how utopian visions take on physical form. We will visit important utopian locations in upstate New York, learning to see and analyze the form and functions of barns, churches, government buildings, and even college campuses. As we read, look and analyze, we will inevitably encounter the many ways in which utopias are threatened, transformed and destroyed. Following this thread, we will end our semester with a direct look at this darker side, in the form of American dystopias. We will pay special attention to how these worlds of despair speak to our fears, but also to the surprising ways in which they nurture our hopes for the future.


Course Offered: