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Gallatin's Duncombe Opens Up More's 'Utopia'

July 23, 2013

Sir Thomas More headed out of this world on July 6, 1535, but left behind one of western civilization’s most recognizable texts, Utopia, which describes a mythical society that More sharply contrasts with his 16th-century Europe.

More, who was executed for running afoul of King Henry VIII, was a vociferous opponent of the Protestant Reformation as Lord Chancellor of England.

So how would More feel about the reformation of his own text?

Written in Latin, Utopia was subsequently translated into several other languages and subject to countless interpretations. But the Digital Age has brought about the ability to alter texts that were unimaginable to the Renaissance saint.

Gallatin Professor Stephen Duncombe—a co-founder of the Center for Artistic Activism, which aims to strengthen connections between social activism and artistic practice—explores these possibilities in “Open Utopia,” the first web-based, open source, and open access edition of More’s classic work. “Open Utopia” may be found at

Duncombe has utilized the capabilities of the web to enable readers to engage in Utopia in new ways that open up the work, creating a platform for others to comment upon More’s text and write their own, building communities of critics and creators.

In collaboration with the Institute for the Future of the Book, “Open Utopia” features a “Social Book” edition that allows Utopia readers to annotate the text on-line and then share their thoughts with communities as small as a local book club or as large as the world. Through “Wikitopia,” a wiki platform for collective authorship, readers become writers: drafting individual and collective new visions of Utopian societies.

“Open Utopia” also includes an ever-expanding library of user-generated, Utopian-themed videos and images as well as audio files of Utopia read aloud.

With this endeavor, Duncombe demonstrates that More—unwittingly—was, indeed, a man for all mediums.

--James Devitt

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