'Utopian Radicals' of the Nineteenth Century


In the first quarter of the twenty-first century, a liberal political and economic order that had prevailed for most of the preceding century, and which seemed so triumphantly secure at the end of the Cold War, has been shaken by a rising tide of populism. To those for whom this ‘old order’ had offered prosperity and certainty, such challenges are deeply disturbing. It is tempting also to see them as unprecedented. We shall discover, on the contrary, that ‘we have been there before’.

Nineteenth century Europe witnessed a rise in support for groups and individuals who rejected many aspects of nascent liberal-capitalism. While today’s populists come largely from the right of the political spectrum, these nineteenth-century radicals were predominantly of the left. One cannot ignore Karl Marx, but our main focus will be on some lesser-known thinkers and activists and on exploring their various ideas of how to build a good society. So we shall look at the careers of a broad sample of these ‘Utopians’, and discover that so many of our twenty-first century concerns, such as social, economic and gender equality, animal and environmental protection and preservation of peace, to name but a few, were also part of their agenda. How might nineteenth-century perspectives on the causes of – and possible solutions to - such issues, help to inform contemporary debates?

Programme details

Session 1

Introduction: The liberal-capitalist order after 1815

Session 2

Early socialist visions of ‘Utopia’: Saint-Simon, Owen, Cabet, Fourier

Session 3

Anarchist theorists: Proudhon, Kropotkin, Malatesta

Session 4

Marx and Engels: Communist Manifesto, 1848

Session 5

First and Second Internationals: Direct action v. parliamentary politics

Session 6

Syndicalism’s Co-Operative Commonwealth

Session 7

Feminist campaigners: Wollstonecraft, Ward, Fawcett, Pelletier

Session 8

Feminist radicals: Michel, Tristan, Goldman, Luxemburg

Session 9

Radicalism in Britain: From Chartism to the Great Labour Unrest

Session 10

Environmental & animal welfare advocates: Martin, Grammont, Cobbe, Sewell

Session 11

Pacifism and anti-militarism: International peace activists, 1815-1914

Session 12

Concluding debate: relevance of ‘Utopian Radical’ ideas to 21st century


Description Costs
Programme Fee (No Accommodation - inc. Tuition, Lunch & Dinner) £850.00
Programme Fee (Standard Single Room - inc. Tuition and Meals) £1485.00
Programme Fee (Standard Twin Room - inc. Tuition and Meals) £1245.00
Programme Fee (Superior Single Room - inc. Tuition and Meals) £1600.00
Programme Fee (Superior Twin Room - inc. Tuition and Meals) £1345.00


Ms Sheila Tremlett


Sheila Tremlett is a Senior Associate Tutor at Oxford University’s Continuing Education Department, where she teaches modern British and European history. She has a special interest in political theory and the history of political ideas.

Course aims

Explore how 19th century radical thinkers and activists analysed the political, economic and social problems of their day, consider their alternative visions of a ‘good society’, and what insights we can glean from their perspectives.

Teaching methods

All summer school courses are taught through group seminars and individual tutorials. Students also conduct private study when not in class and there is a well stocked library at OUDCE to support individual research needs.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students should have acquired:

  • A broad knowledge of the ideas, writings and activities of some influential, but not always well-known, 19th century radicals
  • An appreciation of the context of – and rationale for - their respective critiques, and of their alternative visions of a ‘good society’
  • An ability to engage in debates based on the relevant historiography

Assessment methods

Students are assessed during the summer school by either a 1500 word written assignment or a presentation supported by individual documentation. To successfully gain credit (10 CATS points) students should attend all classes and complete the on-course assignment. There is also a pre-course assignment of 1000 words set. Although this does not count towards credit, it is seen as an important way of developing a student's ideas and therefore its completion is mandatory.