La Flog as a Chautauqua?

Hypothesis: La Flog can provide similar functions today in our policy community as Chautauqua tent gatherings in the early 1900s.

First, what is a Chautauqua?  In the early 20th Century, groups of traveling performers went across the United States presenting music, theater, and lectures.  The performers were more than entertainers – they were theologians, Shakespeare actors, and politicians (FDR, Susan B Anthony, no doubt Bob La Follette gave a speech or two).  Particularly, the lectures allowed public intellectuals of the time to discuss philosophy, religion, as well as policy.  Originating on Lake Chautauqua, NY, performances were held throughout the country were held under tents and in parks, thus called tent (or circuit) Chautauquas.  The remnants of these civic lyceums are the Chautauqua Parks scattered across the country (Madison’s is now Olin/Turville Park).

The physical evidence is not the only record.  Charlotte Canning documents:

Theodore Roosevelt called it “the most American thing in America,” Woodrow Wilson described it during World War I as an “integral part of the national defense,” and William Jennings Bryan deemed it a “potent human factor in molding the mind of the nation.”

The goals, in my estimation, were to educate and entertain, broadening perspectives and providing access to current debates regardless to geographic location.  The discussion opened doors to international relations, different religions, new literature, and recent discoveries.  The tours brought the public to public policy – women’s suffrage, immigration, temperance, discussed in town after town.

The hypothesis might be overstated.  The tent Chautauquas were attended by thousands.  The entertainment at Chautauquas sometimes bordered on vaudeville – La Flog won’t go there.  But in providing a space to encourage dialogue, address many subjects, and publically challenge opinions, this La Flog could potentially offer.  Instead of hour long speeches, 400 word blog posts; the space of La Flog can be transient and without a physical home, just as a Chautauqua.

The goals of tent Chautauquas provide some example of what La Flog can offer: education, debate, new perspectives, open dialogue, and entertainment.


About Nate

Graduate student at University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am studying public policy, administration, and law. More importantly, I am getting the La Follette School Student Association out and onto the blogosphere. Here we come!
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