Wednesday, 29 June 2016

500th Anniversary of More's Utopia - Connected Communities Festival

I've written on the blog before about Utopia and the early printed and Kelsmcott Press editions of Thomas More's work in the Brotherton Library's Special Collections. The name Utopia refers to the island counter-world to which the characters of the story travel, and can be read as both the good place (eutopia) and no place (outopia). While More's island reflected the expanding geographical knowledge of sixteenth century Europe, during the eighteenth century the spatial utopia gradually gave way to a temporal model and utopian narratives became aligned with the idea of a better or alternative future.

Originally published in Latin in 1516, this year sees the 500th anniversary of Utopia, and a number of projects and special events to celebrate the occasion. Among these was the Arts and Humanities Research Council's Connected Communities Festival 2016; this year’s Festival theme was Community Futures and Utopia. I've been involved with the Festival as part of the project team for My Future York. Inspired by work with York Libraries and Archives and the York Past and Present Facebook group, the project explores the potential of utopian thinking for heritage in York and focuses on how these debates can be harnessed in important ways for local democracy. It encompasses a range of temporal perspectives; from thinking about housing plans that didn’t happen to inviting ideas for the future development of the city.

Utopia logo

More's island of utopia

The Festival was in partnership with The Somerset House Trust’s 'Utopia 2016: a year of Imagination and Possibility'. The designs for the 'Utopia 2016' season (see flag above) were created by Jeremy Deller and Fraser Muggeridge studio. They are inspired by Thomas More’s 22-letter Utopian alphabet, which appears in early editions of Utopia with the Latin translation underneath. You can download a copy of the Utopia alphabet here.

To read more about heritage utopias and the My Future York project, visit

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