HS2O21-Utopia: the Quest for a Perfect World

Module Provider: History
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Module version for: 2017/8

Module Convenor: Dr Jeremy Burchardt

Email: j.burchardt@reading.ac.uk

Summary module description:


Part 2 Options can be either chronological or thematic. Chronological Options will usually take the form of a survey of a particular geographical area or nation over a defined period of one or two centuries. These Options aim to acquaint students with the causes and 

consequences of continuity and change over the long term in the political, social, economic and cultural systems under study. Thematic Options take key concepts, ideas, or debates in history and study them in a number of different contexts, either geographically or across historical periods. The aim again is to acquaint students with the causes of continuity and change, but this time by a more comparative approach.


Assessable learning outcomes:

By the end of the module it is expected that the student will be able to: 

• identify and explain the main issues and events studied

• appraise critically the primary sources and historiographical interpretations of the subject

• think comparatively about aspects of African, American, British, European, Middle Eastern and South Asian history over a substantial period

• assess the nature of social, economic, political and cultural change and the particular methodologies associated with tracing it

• organise material and articulate arguments effectively in different kinds of written exercises and orally

• locate and assemble bibliographic and other information by independent research, using IT as appropriate


Additional outcomes:

The module aims to encourage the development of oral communication skills and the student’s effectiveness in group situations and team-working. Students will also develop their IT skills by use of relevant web resources and databases, where appropriate.

Outline content:

This module explores one of humanity’s most cherished and long-standing dreams: the quest for a perfect world.  After an initial survey of the roots of the utopian tradition, we focus primarily on modern visions and versions of utopia in the period c.1800-c.2000.  We look at the writings and influence of nineteenth-century utopians such as Robert Owen, William Morris and Leo Tolstoy and then at attempts to put their ideals into practice, including Owenite communities such as Ralahine and Tolstoyan communes like Whiteway.  We follow the development of this tradition through into twentieth century ‘back-to-the-land’ and countercultural communes.  Such small-scale utopian endeavours were often transient but had the advantage of being comparatively easy to establish.  However, in general they were predicated on turning their back on society rather than attempting to transform it (which is why revolutionaries such as Marx were often hostile to utopianism).  In the second half of the course we turn our attention to more ambitious efforts to create utopian societies at the level of the nation state, focusing on Yugoslavia 1945-1980, Cuba 1959-present and the ‘Nordic model’ of Scandinavian social democracy, c.1930-present.  The module ends with an overview of efforts to translate utopian visions into practice, and a brief consideration of the future of utopia, with a focus on what the implications of IT and robotics are for humanity’s enduring quest for a perfect world.  Throughout the module students will be encouraged to ask questions, think for themselves, and make up their own minds about the many fundamental questions the module raises, among them:

•    Have attempts to create utopian communities/nations ever actually worked?

•    Why have they so rarely lasted?

•    Have they had a positive legacy or have they done more harm than good?

•    Has utopianism fostered, undermined or simply offered an alternative to revolutionary change?

•    Has technological, economic and social change affected the feasibility of utopias?

•    Will the quest for a perfect world always be with us?


Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

Seminars, requiring preparatory reading and investigation, may include informal and interactive presentations by the module teacher; structured group discussion; short seminar papers by students; occasional tutorials; team-based simulation exercises and debates; examination of primary and secondary sources, as appropriate. Staff will be available for consultation as necessary.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Seminars 30
Project Supervision 1
Guided independent study 169
Total hours by term 200.00
Total hours for module 200.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written exam 50
Written assignment including essay 50

Other information on summative assessment:

Students will write ONE essay of 2,500 words, to be handed in by 12 noon on the Monday of week 11 of term, which should be submitted electronically via Blackboard. Five marks will be deducted if the coursework essay exceeds 2,625 words (i.e. 5% over the word limit).

Formative assessment methods:

1,000 words or 2 pages of A4 maximum to include, at the module convenor’s discretion, an essay plan, bibliography, book review or other preparatory work towards the summative essay.

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late, in accordance with the University policy.

  • where the piece of work is submitted up to one calendar week after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for the piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Length of examination:

    One two-hour paper requiring two answers to be taken at the time of the Part 2 examinations.

    Requirements for a pass:

    A mark of 40% overall

    Reassessment arrangements:

    Re-assessment will be by the same method as the module’s original requirement, subject to variation by the Examination Board where appropriate.

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):
    1) Required text books:
    2) Specialist equipment or materials:
    3) Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear:
    4) Printing and binding:
    5) Computers and devices with a particular specification:
    6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence:

    Last updated: 31 March 2017

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