History 12 Reading Guide

The End of Charles Nordhoff's 1874 Tour and his comparative view and review of communistic efforts in the United states

  • Charles Nordhoff, "The Icarians," "The Bishop Hill Colony," "The Cedar Vale Commune," "The Social Freedom Community," "Three Colonies--Not Communistic," "Comparative View and Review,"American Utopias, 333-418.

Further reading:

  • Robert P. Sutton, "An American Elysium:  The Icarian Communities," in Pitzer, America's Communal Utopias, 279-296.
  • Jon Wagner, "Eric Jansson and the Bishop Hill Colony," in Pitzer, America's Communal Utopias, 297-318.
  • Gertrude E. Huntington, "Living in the Ark: Four Centuries of Hutterite Faith and Community," in Pitzer, America's Communal Utopias, 319-351.


  • Nordhoff completed his examination of communistic societies in 1874 with chapters on Icaria, Bishop Hill, Cedar Vale, Social Freedom, and the "Three Colonies--Not Communistic."  In these chapters, he began to pull together his assessment about the "indispensable components of a successful communistic society."  Were these the last communities that he studied?  Had his perspective and prospects for the viability of communistic societies altered over the course of his explorations?
  • In his "Comparative View and Review," which contemporary communities, in his mind, illustrated successful communistic societies? What "common assumptions" did Nordhoff challenge, and what conclusions did he draw? What statistics did he present to support his assessments (what evidence did he consider most persuasive? How did he evaluate communal politics and political economy? Were his evaluations supported by the evidence that he presented in his previous chapters? What did he conclude about the character of communards and the influences of "common life"? What did he believe his venture had determined about the conditions and possibilities of communistic living? What did he praise? What did he exaggerate? What did he critique?
  • Contrast the Icarians and later socialist communities with the Owenite and Fourier communities of the early nineteenth century.  What needs of their members did these later communal societies satisfy?
  • In later nineteenth-century utopias (and "colonies"), how had utopian impulses, visions, models and communities changed from earlier communal efforts?  To what extent, and in what regard, were they similar to their precursors?  How can we account for both the similarities and the differences?
  • What is utopia?