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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : History

Undergraduate Course: Better Worlds? Ancient to Early Modern Utopias (HIST10457)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryUtopias - and dystopias - have been used to mirror and direct social disquiet from ancient times down to our own day, from Plato to The Handmaid's Tale. This course explores some influential strands of utopian and apocalyptic commentary, beginning with ancients such as Aristophanes and Plato, the Bible, and picking up these themes in late medieval apocalypticism, Thomas More, Francis Bacon, and Lady Mary Cavendish. Students will consider key texts in relation to social and intellectual contexts.
Course description "A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias."
- Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism, 1891

Since antiquity, when Europeans have tried to advance new visions of society, or criticize old ones, they have often used utopias to dramatise their concerns. Utopias can be at once, literally, 'noplaces' or 'good-places'. We see them today in space operas, dystopian dramas, apocalyptic thrillers, political speeches, and even 'histories of the future'. This course addresses significant examples that once linked political dreams to contemporary anxieties, from the ancient Eastern Mediterranean to early modern England, giving equal weight to classical and early modern texts.

Our mode of analysis will be historical, with a focus on social and intellectual contexts. Therefore, we will proceed by careful reading of the evidence, with a focus on a main primary source each week. Seminars will discuss each example in relation to its local political concerns while also exploring the formation of the genre more fully.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements For History Students - A pass or passes in 40 credits of first level historical courses or equivalent and a pass or passes in 40 credits of second level historical courses or equivalent.
Before enrolling students on this course, Personal Tutors are asked to contact the History Honours Admission Secretary to ensure that a place is available (Tel: 504030).

For Classics Students - This course is available to all students who have progressed to Honours.
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 3 Classics or History courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses. Applicants should note that, as with other popular courses, meeting the minimum does NOT guarantee admission.

** as numbers are limited, visiting students should contact the Visiting Student Office directly for admission to this course **
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. understand and analyse the long-term social use of utopias;
  2. engage primary sources in relation to current scholarship;
  3. contribute constructively to team discussion, through presentation and conversation;
  4. write and research, independently, a significant paper.
Reading List
Ryan Krieger Balot, 'Utopian and post-utopian paradigms in classical political thought', Arion 16 (2008): 75-89.

Gregory Claeys, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Leah DeVun, Prophecy, Alchemy, and the End of Time: John of Rupescissa in the Late Middle Ages (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009).

Page DuBois, 'The History of the Impossible: Ancient Utopia', Classical Philology 101 (2006), 1-14.

Marília P. Futre Pinheiro, 'Utopia and Utopias: a Study on a Literary Genre in Antiquity', in Authors, Authority, and Interpreters in the Ancient Novel (eds. Shannon N. Byrne et al.; Groningen: Barkhuis, 2006), 147-71.

Lee Cullen Khanna, 'The Subject of Utopia: Margaret Cavendish and Her Blazing-World', Utopian and Science Fiction by Women: World of Difference (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1994), 15-34.

Katharine Park, 'Women, Gender, and Utopia: The Death of Nature and the Historiography of Early Modern Science', Isis 97, no. 3 (2006): 487-95.

Bronwen Price, ed., Francis Bacon's New Atlantis: New Interdisciplinary Essays (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018),

Iris Sulimani, 'Imaginary Islands in the Hellenistic Era. Utopia on the Geographical Map', in Myths on the Map: The Storied Landscapes of Ancient Greece (ed. Greta Hawes; Oxford: OUP, 2017), 221-42.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills This course will encourage students to:

- Process and critically assess information derived from historical research, using historiographical, theoretical and methodological knowledge and skills to develop the students' research programme.
- Construct and pursue a coherent historical argument based on the hypotheses which have been formulated and tested by reference to primary and secondary source material.
- Write clear, accurate, precise and concise prose.
- Master practical skills in making effective contributions to group based learning.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Richard Oosterhoff
Tel: (0131 6)50 9110
Course secretary
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