History 12 Reading Guide

Theosophical Communities and Socialist Utopias in California

  • J. Gordon Melton, "The Theosophical Communities and Their Ideal of Universal Brotherhood," in Pitzer, America's Communal Utopias, 396-418.
  • Robert V. Hine, "California's Socialist Utopias," in Pitzer, America's Communal Utopias, 419-431.

Further reading:

  • James E. Landing, "Cyrus Reed Teed and the Koreshan Unity," in Pitzer, America's Communal Utopias, 375-395.
  • Timothy Miller, "Artists' Colonies as Communal Societies in the Arts and Crafts Era," Communal Societies 16 (1996), 43-70.

Questions:

  • Note:  Melton and Hine examine two contrasting communal impulses in late nineteenth and early twentieth century California. In what ways do these ventures seem familiar?  With which previous utopian communities in the nineteenth century do they share particular attributes or experiences?  Was that intentional or coincidental?
  • Would either or both of these communal society impulses have had a better chance of success elsewhere (outside of the US)?  Would they even have been attempted elsewhere?
  • In the utopias of the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, what changed?  What stayed the same?  How can we accounts for the differences and the similarities?
  • What does the connection between Bellamy and both the Theosophists and Socialists suggest about the appeal of Bellamy's (and W.D. Howells's) ideas for his (their) contemporaries?  Were you surprised?  How does that appeal help us better understand how Bellamy wrote for an audience of his contemporaries? 
  • To whom did American communards look for inspiration?  How does that shape their understanding of both the "problems" and the solutions?
  • What is the significance of these international (European/American) communities of interest?
  • What are we coming to understand about the connections between utopian / communistic / alternative society ventures?
  • Ponder these later utopian ventures as precursors to the twentieth century:  in what ways were their visions of both the problems and the solutions forward (as opposed to backward) looking?