Dreaming the future: five hundred years of utopia

Knowledge Quarter’s partner, Senate House Library, University of London presents ‘Utopia and Dystopia: dreaming the future’ a thought-provoking exhibition and programme of free events inspired to Thomas More’s masterpiece Utopia.

Featuring the Library’s rich and global collections, the exhibition 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’ will explore how humankind has dreamed and experimented with the concept of the perfect society.

Thomas More’s work coined a new word in the English language: Utopia (a nowhere land of perfection), and was hugely influential in Western philosophical and political thought challenging 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.

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