Dreaming the future: five hundred years of utopia

Monday 19 September 2016

A unique and thought-provoking presentation of Thomas More's Utopia opens this autumn with an exhibition and programme of free events in Senate House Library, University of London.

Featuring the Library's rich and global collections, the exhibition is entitled ‘Utopia and Dystopia: dreaming the future’. It celebrates the 500th anniversary of the publication and also its enduring influence in politics, social and economic reform, literature and popular culture.
Based primarily on the fourth floor of Senate House, ‘Utopia and Dystopia’ (3 October–17 December). will explore how humankind has dreamed and experimented with the concept of the perfect society. Thomas More’s work was hugely influential in Western philosophical and political thought.

It coined a new word in the English language: Utopia (a nowhere land of perfection), and challenged the foundations of early modern English society. Published in 1516, it advocated an imaginary republic in which all social conflict and distress had been overcome.

The concept is explored through a series of five galleries, taking early modern English utopias as a starting point (gallery 1). Utopian political movements that emerged in Latin America and Africa in the second half of the 20th century feature in gallery 2, the philanthropic spirit behind many social and urban reform initiatives in Britain, France and the USA in gallery 3. Concepts of utopia in literature are highlighted in gallery 4 and, more recently, utopian and dystopian visions in popular culture in gallery 5.

The ‘Utopia and Dystopia’ exhibition and season of events is a celebration of Thomas More’s enormous contribution to the history of thought, says Jackie Marfleet, the Senate House Librarian. ‘It will enable visitors to reflect upon the idea that a better world is possible and that this concept is as universal today as it was in 1516. The exhibition will also be an opportunity to showcase the Library’s world class collections, including items from the collections of the Institutes of Commonwealth and Latin American Studies held at Senate House Library.’

A three-month programme of free public engagement events, from October to December, will complement the exhibition. Highlights include Utopia at 500: a final reckoning?, a lecture by Professor Gregory Claeys (Royal Holloway, University of London), Professor Matthew Beaumont (University College London) on literary utopias, screenings of acclaimed films Utopia London and The City, demonstrations of vintage computer games, street arts workshops, and an ‘in conversation’ event featuring members of Latin American solidarity committees.

The season closes on 6 December with an ‘end of utopia’ symposium with a range of scholars and academics exploring whether utopian visions of society are still possible.


Notes for Editors
1. For further information please contact Emily Stidston at Senate House Library, University of London at emily.stidston@london.ac.uk / 020 7862 8417. Images available on request.

2. Senate House Library (SHL) is one of the world’s most significant collections in the arts, humanities and social sciences. With its partner libraries of the Institutes of the School of Advanced Study, it provides services to readers from the School of Advanced Study, the Colleges of the federal University of London, and from London, regional, national and international research communities. All are welcome to join the Library through a membership programme for the University of London, other UK universities, overseas universities, or as a member of the public. The Library and its collections have been continuously developed since the 1870s. It now holds over two million printed books, thousands of printed and electronic journals, and the highest proportion of historic collections of any university library in the United Kingdom.  Modern materials in printed and electronic formats are collected at research level and in Western European languages to support cross- and inter-disciplinary research in subjects such as English Studies, history, philosophy, music, Romance and Germanic languages, palaeography, art history and area studies. Senate House Library also holds the University of London Archive – the historic record of the University – and is responsible for the University of London Artworks Collection. Acquisitions are also made to the Historic Collections, and notable collections include the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature, the Sterling Library and the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature. http://senatehouselibrary.ac.uk/

3. The University of London is a federal University and is one of the oldest, largest and most diverse universities in the UK. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University is recognised globally as a world leader in Higher Education. It consists of 18 self-governing Colleges of outstanding reputation, together with a number of prestigious central academic bodies and activities. Learn more about the University of London at http://www.london.ac.uk.

4. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London (SAS) is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. In 2014-15, SAS: welcomed 805 research fellows and associates; held 2,073 research dissemination events; received 23.1 million visits to its digital research resources and platforms; and received 213,456 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities: Being Human. Find out more at www.sas.ac.uk or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.