Social Utopias Past and Present in my sources

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Our understanding of anything that we see, hear, or read is influenced by prior knowledge and the lens through which the experience occurs. Because of this fact of life, the reading of the sources for my seminar paper was also influenced by my recently gained knowledge of social utopias past and present. Also, because I was reading the sources in search of evidence for an argument based on the theme of social utopias, I was especially alert for any references to Utopian ideas, past or present. For example, when reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s letters from Brook Farm, I paid more attention to his feelings about Brook Farm — what he thought about his time there — then I did to his general descriptions of Brook Farm. This way I could get a sense of whether or not Brook Farm was a better place for Hawthorne. In other words, whether on not it was utopian. If I was not reading the letters through a utopian lens, I may have noticed his descriptions of Brook Farm geography, or the other residents of Brook Farm, or his relationship with the people to whom he was writing the letters.

I had the same experience with other readings as well. One is particular was especially effected by my desire to find evidence of utopianism. The article by Preucel and Pendery was actually an archaeological study of Brook Farm to look at the differences in structures from its time as a transcendentalist community and its existence as an Associationist phalanx. However, I hardly even registered the author’s findings on this topic because I was only reading to see what the authors had to say about Brook Farm as a utopian community.

While it isn’t necessarily bad to approach something through a certain lens since such an approach can help you to find what you are looking for, much more can be gained by reading something without a specific mission the first time through in order to get a general sense of the paper.  After learning what can be learned from the book or article, one can then read it again with the lens and pull out the information most valuable to you as a researcher.