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Heaven on Earth: A History of American Utopias

January 3, 2014

This Week on BackStory - Heaven on Earth: A History of American Utopias.

The New Year is here and many of us have resolved to make this one better than the last. But in the past some Americans have sought to make positive changes in their lives and communities on a much larger scale. This episode of BackStory explores their efforts to create American utopias. From the search for transcendence amid rural beauty, to attempts to build perfectly ordered industrial towns, the American History Guys examine the nature and impact of utopian thinking across three centuries of American history.

In Heaven on Earth, Peter, Ed, and Brian explore utopian yearnings in the American past, and the ways these still resonate today. Whether based on religious conviction or secular visions of social progress, attempts to build model communities have been a recurring feature of American life. What allows some utopian communities to endure for decades, while others collapse within months? How have mainstream Americans viewed their utopian-minded brethren? And is America itself a utopian project?

Guests include:

•             Carl Guarneri, St. Mary's College, on the French proto-Socialist thinker Charles Fourier, a young American who popularized his ideas, and efforts to implement them across the United States.

•             Richard Francis, independent scholar, on how tensions over the nature of family life ultimately sank the Transcendental community "Fruitlands."

•             Jane Baxter, DePaul University, on one of the first company towns--Pullman--and the search for a capitalist utopia in the late 19th century.

BackStory is a production of VFH Radio at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. The weekly program is newscast compatible and there are no carriage fees. New episodes are uploaded to SubAuto/PRX and Content Depot on Friday afternoons.

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