BA English Language and English Literature / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Imaginations of the Future: People, Earth and Power

Course unit fact file
Unit code ENGL34171
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


Lyman Tower Sargent describes utopian thinking as ‘social dreaming’ and Anatole France writes that ‘out of generous dreams come beneficial realities’. This course will consider rush of utopian (and dystopian texts) produced in Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century, examining their imaginings of new kinds of gender relations, power relations within and between classes and nations, and relationships between people, the earth and its plants and animals. Alongside these it will consider two key American texts and an Indian text, tracing their influences in and from British writings and British culture. 

We will read the texts in their cultural and political contexts and draw on key theorists of utopian writing from Ernst Bloch to Fredric Jameson to ask questions such as: what does utopian and dystopian writing do? How does it interact with its own historical and political context, with ideas of past and future? Does it lead, reflect or challenge social and cultural change? How radical or conservative, liberating or repressive is the form? Drawing on archive material at the Working Class Movement library and the John Rylands, we will also consider rare examples of comic utopias and dystopias, examine the role of niche radical newspapers in the creation and dissemination of utopian and dystopian writings, and identify some of the political uses of key utopian texts in their own time and later. 


  • To enable students to make informed arguments about turn-of-the-century utopian and dystopian texts, paying close attention to form, style and context of publication and reception, as well as content
  • To equip students to carry out archive work, identifying useful source materials and putting them to use in developing sophisticated analysis and arguments
  • To allow students to critically examine representations of class, gender, race and nature in late C19 utopian writings, developing an understanding of the relationships between cultural production and social change
  • To ensure that students can draw confidently on appropriate theoretical and critical language to make nuanced arguments about utopian writing
  • To enable students to examine and discuss in details the key techniques, styles and approaches that characterise utopian/dystopian writing
  • To provide opportunities in seminar groups and through the assessments for students to develop their close reading, analytical writing and public speaking skills


Learning outcomes



Teaching and learning methods



Knowledge and understanding

•    Students will have an awareness of the styles, forms and approaches that characterise utopian writing and thinking
•    Students will be able to trace the development of utopian thinking and writing across the C19 and make comparisons both within the period and beyond it, within Britain and beyond it
•    Students will have a good understanding of a wide range of critical and theoretical writings about utopia
•    Students will have an awareness of some of the social uses of utopian texts
•    Students will be able to analyse relationships between texts, historical and social movements and power 

Intellectual skills

•    Students will be able to construct and defend complex arguments through textual evidence, both in writing and in seminars
•    Student will be able to draw on a range of critical and theoretical frameworks to discuss  utopian and dystopian writing and make sophisticated critical comparisons

Practical skills

•    Students will be able to work in groups, in pairs and individually to produce high quality work
•    Students will be able to make use of a range of formats to express their idea, including in writing, orally and with the use of visual materials
•    Students will have the opportunity to prepare a group podcast, gaining skills of teamwork, time-management and leadership, as well as learning about how to prepare material for different types of audience. 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Students will be able to work in a small team to meet set objectives to a given deadline
  • Students will be able to use an archive to find materials relevant to their topic of study
  • Students will be able to give an effective presentation using visual and textual aids
  • Students will be able to work individually and respond creatively to a set brief
  • Students will be able to critically analyse written and visual texts in their context
  • Students will be able to critically interrogate relationships between written texts and their social and political context

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Through seminar work students will demonstrate their ability to analyse complex material and to engage courteously and confidently with the opinions of others. They will develop critical thinking skills and be able to put them into practice in a range of tasks.
Students will, through the group podcast, develop skills of teamwork, time management and critical and creative thinking as well as demonstrating an ability to produce coherent arguments orally; for their essay they will need to consult archives, working independently to a brief and a deadline, and to communicate clearly.

Assessment methods

Assessment task 
Critical bibliography of theoretical texts on utopia/dystopia25%

Project: groupwork creative podcast

Essay on course texts and archive material50%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

  1. Written 


  1. Written


  1. Written


Recommended reading

Core Texts: 
Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (1889)
Edward Bulwer Lytton, The Coming Race (1871)
Elizabeth Burgoyne Corbett, New Amazonia (1889)
Samuel Butler, Erewhon (1872)
Pauline Hopkins, Of One Blood (1902-3)
William Hudson, A Crystal Age (1887)
Richard Jefferies, After London (1885)
William Morris, News from Nowhere 
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (1915) 
Rokeya Sakhawat Hossein, Sultana’s Dream (1905) 
Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891)

Key Critical and Theoretical Texts: 
Matthew Beaumont The Spectre of Utopia: Utopian and Science Fictions at the Fin de Siècle (Peter Lang, 2012)
Ernest Bloch, The Principle of Hope (1954)
Gregory Claeys, (ed) Cambridge Companion to Utopian Fiction (CUP, 2010)
Lisa Garforth, Green Utopias: Environmental Hope before and After Nature (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2018)
Ingrid Hanson, ‘Conversation, Formation and Forms of Utopian Fiction at the Victorian Fin de Siècle’, in the Handbook to Thomas More’s Utopia, ed. by Cathy Shrank and Phil Withington (OUP: forthcoming, 2022)
Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions‬ (Verso, 2005) ‬‬
Patrick Parrinder, Utopian Literature and Science: From the Scientific Revolution to Brave New World and Beyond (Palgrave, 2015)
Mary M. Talbot and Bryan Talbot, The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia (Jonathan Cape 2016)
Alex Zamalin, Black Utopia: the History of an Idea from Black Nationalism to Afrofuturism (West Sussex: Columbia University Press, 2019)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
External visits 3
Lectures 11
Practical classes & workshops 2
Seminars 22
Work based learning 2
Independent study hours
Independent study 160

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ingrid Hanson Unit coordinator

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