Chautauqua Through History
The History of Chautauqua
In 1872, Methodist minister John Vincent had it in mind to offer instruction to Sunday school teachers outside along scenic lake Chautauqua in New York. In a few short years, the instruction style became so popular that in 1874, Vincent and an associate of his established the Chautauqua Institution. As a religious movement, Chautauqua spread across the country as a religious revival that frequently hosted in large tents.
Key components of Chautauqua were Christian instruction, preaching, worship, and band music. Gradually, lectures about other subjects appeared in the tent, such as politics, comedy or performance arts, philosophy, culture, and history. The popularity of the movement was undeniable. President Theodore Roosevelt even said it was “the most American thing in America.” But in 1940, the movement stalled. Americans were concerned about the war in Europe and worried about being drawn into the conflict and Americans had just started to recover from the greatest economic disaster in US history. Though the movement ended, the Chautauqua Institution in New York is still operating.
The Contemporary Chautauqua Movement
In the 1970s, Everett Albers, Humanities North Dakota Executive Director, boldly re-imagined and re-launched the modern Chautauqua movement as a series of scholars offering first-person interpretations of historical figures, that is, scholars dressed to look and sound like their subject, scholars who so meticulously research their subject that he or she could answer contemporary questions based on what his or her subject believed, wrote, and practiced.
Everett Albers under the Chautauqua tent in the 70s.