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Senate House Library

Utopia and Dystopia

About the exhibition

To mark the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia in December 1516, the University of London mounted a thought-provoking and exciting exhibition and programme of free events in Senate House Library.

More’s work was hugely influential in Western philosophical and political thought. It coined a new word in the English language: Utopia (nowhere land), and challenged the foundations of early modern English society advocating an imaginary republic in which all social conflict and distress have been overcome.

Based primarily on the fourth floor, the exhibition drew upon Senate House Library’s rich and wide-ranging collections to explore how humankind has dreamed and experimented with the concept of the perfect society. Taking early modern English utopias as a starting point (gallery 1), it also traced utopian political movements that emerged in Latin America and Africa in the second half of the 20th century (gallery 2), as well as the philanthropic spirit behind many social and urban reform initiatives in Britain, France and the USA (gallery 3), concepts of utopia in literature (gallery 4) and more recently utopian and dystopian visions in popular culture (gallery 5).

though no man has anything, yet they are all rich;
for what can make a man so rich as to lead a serene
and cheerful life, free from anxieties; neither
apprehending want himself
Thomas More, Utopia


A programme of free public engagement events took place between October and December 2016. Highlights included:

  • Matthew Beaumont, Professor of English at University College London, delivered a lecture on literary utopias in October
  • Screenings of acclaimed films ‘Utopia London’ (2010) by British filmmaker Tom Cordell, and ‘The City’ (1939)
  • A vintage computer games demonstration
  • A street arts workshop led by a London-based graffiti artist, part of the Being Human festival
  • An ‘In Conversation’ event with members of solidarity committees with Latin America
  • An academic symposium on 6 December
  • An evening of evocative songs and music featuring tenor Norbert Meyn and his Ensemble ÉMIGRÉ.
  • Gregory Claeys, professor of the History of Political Thought at Royal Holloway will deliver the closing keynote lecture on ‘Utopia at 500: A Final Reckoning?’ on 8 December

The recital concert, in The Chancellor’s Hall, Senate House, 14 December 2016:

Closing recital performance for Dystopia Utopia exhibition series at Senate House Library.

Exhibitions at Senate House Library

Utopia and Dystopia ran from 3 October to 17 December 2016. The Library runs exhibition and engagement seasons throughout the year. Find out more on our exhibitions and events pages.

Senate House Library is located in Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU. See information about how to find us.