What does Chautauqua mean?

Chautauqua Apartments Davis, CAHas word suddenly appeared everywhere you look? Carl Jung called this phenomenon synchronicity. This week that word was Chautauqua. (Chautauqua is the name of Tandem’s apartment community on 717 Alvarado Avenue in Davis.) It kept showing up everywhere. On a drive to Colorado, to a random call from upstate New York and today on Lifehacker in a post called Is Productivity Killing Your Creativity? In the blog post, Jay Field writes:

A few years later I found myself on a train from NYC to Greenwich, CT – listening to the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance audiobook. The book changed my perspective greatly, and I’ll never forget the line: I haven’t really had a new idea in years. The following paragraph haunted me as well:

What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua…that’s the only name I can think of for it…like the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across America, this America, the one that we are now in, an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer. The Chautauquas were pushed aside by faster-paced radio, movies and TV, and it seems to me the change was not entirely an improvement. Perhaps because of these changes the stream of national consciousness moves faster now, and is broader, but it seems to run less deep. The old channels cannot contain it and in its search for new ones there seems to be growing havoc and destruction along its banks. In this Chautauqua I would like not to cut any new channels of consciousness but simply dig deeper into old ones that have become silted in with the debris of thoughts grown stale and platitudes too often repeated. “What’s new?” is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question “What is best?,” a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream. There are eras of human history in which the channels of thought have been too deeply cut and no change was possible, and nothing new ever happened, and “best” was a matter of dogma, but that is not the situation now. Now the stream of our common consciousness seems to be obliterating its own banks, losing its central direction and purpose, flooding the lowlands, disconnecting and isolating the highlands and to no particular purpose other than the wasteful fulfillment of its own internal momentum. Some channel deepening seems called for.

According to Merriam-Webster, Chautauqua means:

Definition of CHAUTAUQUA

: any of various traveling shows and local assemblies that flourished in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that provided popular education combined with entertainment in the form of lectures, concerts, and plays, and that were modeled after activities at the Chautauqua Institution of western New York


Chautauqua Lake

First Known Use: 1873


For more history on the Chautauqua movement, check out Wikipedia. Now next time someone asks you what Chautauqua means, you’ll know.