June 20, 2013, by Zoë Goodwin
Picturing Politics: Thomas More’s Utopia
Picturing Politics, a blog produced by the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham is host to a series of audio and video clips featuring academics commenting on the political significance of a diverse range of images.
The fifth post in the series by Dr Lucy Sargisson looks at the map that forms the frontispiece for Thomas More’s Utopia. In fact, two versions of this map are compared, one which was published as the frontispiece of the first addition of the book and the other which was used when the book was re-published in 1518.
Dr Sargisson introduces the storyline, and tells us that Utopia is about a fictional conversation had between Thomas More, some of More’s friends and Hythloday, a sea wise man who has seen the world. Hythloday talks of a wonderful island called Utopia where there is no such thing as private property and people live from their common wealth.
Dr Sargisson discusses the map from two perspectives. On one hand this map, which shows us the topography of the island with its rivers and towns, suggests a real place, but on the other hand it is not a map, it does not tell us where it is or how to find it.
The differences between the maps are described by Dr Sargisson as she points out the change which to her is the most interesting and then describes how this change captures the essence of More’s Utopia for her.
For Dr Sargisson, Utopia is about what could happen when people from different worlds come together and when a gaze of a stranger falls on our lives.The story encourages us to question what we take for granted and to challenge the ways things have always been done and prompts us to think about what makes a good society.
Dr Sargisson then goes on to talk about why Hythloday’s was disgusted with the social and legal systems of the 16th century England. He accuses English law to be neither effective nor just. Listen to me he says and I will tell you about a place where things are done differently and better.
To conclude the clip, Dr Sargisson states that Utopia is a great book and has inspired a tradition of utopian thinking that continues today.
Listen to the full audio clip here.