How does what I’ve learned about social utopias past and present influence my interpretation of the sources in my seminar paper?

When I came to the conclusion that the editors of The Harbinger decided to limit mentioning the community of Brook Farm to only six times so they could focus on issues that catered to the outside public, it immediately grabbed my attention. The other utopian communities that I have studied have proved to be private and reserved, not wanting much contact with the outside. They established their communities so they could be separate from the problems of the world and solve them on their own. The editors of Brook Farm wanted society outside of the community to be interested and invested in their ideas, therefore they kept the topics more relevant to a larger audience. I interpreted this as an extremely progressive move, and it helped shape my thesis, because it was a serious choice made by the editors that could not go ignored. It guided me realize that The Harbinger was really something that the world of journalism has never seen before, and as a result, I interpreted the articles in a different way. I was more attentive to the modern news columns that The Harbinger printed, reading into their importance because they talked about aspects of society that did not directly relate to Associationism.The paper also talked a great deal about the Associationist movement, and I was more sensitive to the manner in which the ideas were presented, because it was meant for those who weren’t necessarily living in an Associationist community.

How did the residents of Brook Farm understand utopia?

A lot of my research was focused on The Harbinger, and how it sought a connection to the outside community to spread the word about the Associationist beliefs originating from Charles Fourier and about the Brook Farm community. However, I did find a sense of pride enveloped in the minds of Brook Farm’s members as I read through letters, articles and memoirs. No member seemed opposed to the outside world, and in fact welcomed visitors with open arms. They were not trying to completely sever ties with all society, they just wanted a space to be able to practice their beliefs.

John Codman, a member of Brook Farm, wrote a series of memories about his life and his observations of the community. He gave rich details and spoke with excitement and pleased nostalgia. When discussing the community dinners, it was evident that he understood the importance of connecting as a unit to form harmonious relationships. “It is hardly necessary to say that I looked around with peculiar interest on those who were to be my new friends and companions…There was a happy buzz that indicated to me a probability of great future happiness,” (Conman, 49). To Codman, Brook Farm was an enclosed space where he was free to explore his own interests, while forming strong bonds with other members who have similar ideals. Codman also enjoyed the simplicity of it all, as he could carry out his work and wander around the community in the open air, with a carefree attitude. It was obvious that Codman knew that he had companions that would share all of the duties with each other and as a result, no individual had their own worries, which in a way was freeing. Codman was a little upset that The Harbinger did not expose more aspects of Brook Farm life, showing that he was proud of the community and wanted more specifics to be mentioned.

George Ripley, the editor of The Harbinger, did not talk about Brook Farm as much as the Associationist ideas in his articles, but he did write a letter to a curious outsider, proving his love for the community. He found a lot of things wrong with Brook Farm and new it was far from perfect, but he knew that it was a space that was free from obstacles or deceit. “There is a freedom from the frivolities of fashion, from arbitrary restrictions, and from the frenzy of competition; we meet our fellow men in more sincere, hearty, and genial relations…” (Delano, 240). With the restrictions of living in a utopia came a sense of freedom to the Brook Farm members.

How should I organize my research? Where should my sources be placed?

I immediately go to my primary sources to quote and explain before my secondary, because they are reflective of the time and very insightful. It’s essential to my paper because I am writing about a newspaper, so having direct quotes and passages to cite from the paper is stronger evidence, and it gives the readers a better idea of the writing style as well as content. I refer to the first issue of The Harbinger, from a book edited by Albert Fried often because it shows the editors’ views on how they were going to construct the paper, and what their future plans were for it. The mission of the paper can be seen firsthand, and I believe that there is no better way express it. In a series of autobiographies from Brook Farm edited by Henry Sams, there are multiple excerpts from The Harbinger, which give an excellent representation of the paper over time. The readers can clearly see for themselves. I also find personal commentary crucial. John Codman, a resident of Brook Farm, reflects on his time on Brook Farm in his personal memoirs, and it shows how the paper affected those who were living in the current time. No one can attest to it better than those who were actually there.

Secondary and background sources are still extremely important. They help put everything into context for me, and for the readers of my paper. Primary sources cannot escape their time period and comment on their experiences from a distance like secondary sources do. Sterling Delano’s book about the history of Brook Farm and the biography of George Ripley, its founder, are very essential to my understanding of the community. They draw conclusions and analyze just like I am doing in my paper, and it helps me develop arguments.

When writing the paper, I will need to organize my research chronologically at the beginning to establish a background, but after that I don’t necessarily have to. I want to establish my stronger arguments and more surprising claims first. I’m not saying that any of my research is dull or unimportant, but I believe it will be a better paper if the readers are drawn in by the findings that I believe are not well known unless you have studied Brook Farm.

Why should you care about Brook Farm?

Why should you be interested in Brook Farm, and why should you really care about learning about the community and its weekly newspaper? My specific research focused on Brook Farm’s publication, The Harbinger. After studying it for a little while, I found it fascinating how a paper dedicated to spreading certain ideas of one movement was labeled one of the most progressive and free-minded papers of its time. The Harbinger was a weekly publication that reached readers both inside and the outside of the community with a circulation of about 1,000. Its mission was to spread Associationist ideals through an engaging platform, designed to address all aspects of society. However, the Associationist beliefs were not typically expressed explicitly article after article. Rather the ideas were often intertwined in the various columns, that talked about modern issues in society. There were columns that included literary criticism, fine arts, poems and musical reviews.

The Musical Review column was a very new concept to any of the papers, and it essentially pioneered the way for future columns like it. Here is a small community, with excellent journalistic ideas, making an impact on the present and the future. Famous authors were also featured in the paper, making it very interesting and relevant to its readers. The Harbinger found a way to take their beliefs and present them in an appealing way, a principle that is still tackled today. They got to decide what news they wanted to report, and how they wanted to cover it, but they made it interesting to consume and therefore gained a lot of attention.

Other famous newspapers at the time were well aware of The Harbinger. The Boston Atlas, The Chicago Tribune, and the Cincinnati Herald were all big publications at the time, and they all respected and found the Brook Farm paper impressive. When we think of Utopias we often think about how closed off they were, trying to keep to their own little world. But the purpose of a newspaper is to connect its readers with a common interest, and The Harbinger did just that while spreading their ideas.

How did my research help me come to my final question?

When I started researching more about the Fourierest publications, I decided to settle on a specific one. Although they had a few circulating at the time, The Harbinger was a newspaper specific to Brook Farm. Starting the newspaper was an idea initially sparked Horace Greely, an extremely prominent journalist at the time, who granted the movement a column on the first page of the New York Tribune. After reading more about the paper, I found that not only did it reach out to those within the community, but it extended to the outside as well. The paper resembled a very open minded publication, and it covered topics relevant to all aspects of society such as science, fine arts, and political issues.

The primary source that I used in the workshop gave me a whole new insight to the paper because it outlined the whole mission and all of its intentions in one introductory note. I did not realize that The Harbinger went beyond its notion as a propagandist paper, but the journalists reported on current topics using their Associaitionist ideas in the interpretations of their critiques. This certainly had to have an impact on both outside and inside the community, because the newspaper clearly stated that they will always speak their minds on all of the topics, an idea that was not always favored in that time period. It was certainly a newspaper that spoke its mind making a biased news source, but they identified it from the start as it was their mission to share their beliefs with society. It seems as if the paper used their critiques on social life, politics, literature, music, and more to introduce their ideas.

Research Question: What role did theThe Harbinger play in spreading the beliefs of the Associationist movement on Brook Farm and outside of the community?

What about Brook Farm interests me?

I find the Fourierest Phalanxes very interesting because the plan was so well detailed even up to the exact amount of members that should be admitted. Fourier’s original ideas were well thought out and focused a lot on a special “divine social code” that Fourier claimed to have mastered to create a harmonious community. His focus on such a socially cognizant community seems intriguing because Fourier didn’t focus too much on the specific laws of the society.

When Brisbane brought the ideas to America, he altered it to fit American culture and it seemed to work fairly well on Brook Farm. What I found to be interesting was the introduction of the media by Horace Greely for the movement that brought a lot of attention to the community to the insiders and outsiders. It helped defend its critics and grew to establish a Propagandist newspaper, the Harbinger which was a new idea in the midst of a growing journalistic world. I want to explore the impact of these publications on the inside and the outside of the community. Looking at journalism at the time both from the Harbinger and from news sources outside would be a way to explore this further.

How did the rise of the interest in journalism at the time impact the success of the publications dedicated to Brook Farm and the Associationist movement?