The Cascadia Seminar was conceived on the streets of Seattle, very near Denny Hall at the University of Washington. It was 2010 and Susan Erikson (Simon Fraser University), and Janelle Taylor (now at the University of Toronto) were walking and talking after lunch about the elements of a satisfying career in anthropology . We came around to one of the most basic contradictions in academic life. Here we are, the nerds of society, and we spend too little time working with the basic raw material of nerd-dom: ideas.   

As academics, it’s our job to work with ideas. The unspoken social contract is that we’re supposed to generate ideas and get people – ourselves, our students, our colleagues, our worlds – to fuss with ideas, make them better, tighter, well-argued. Why, we wondered, are there so few places to really dig into that? Conference presentations are often no more than data dumps – 15 mins to talk, questions bunched at the end, nothing deep. We wanted deep. 

So the Cascadia Seminar goes for The Deep.  By design, the sessions feature new ideas in medical anthropology. The Seminar provides opportunities to hear new ideas, and then, almost as importantly as having them, the Seminar provides the time to fuss with ideas, take them for test drives, make them stronger, develop them more fully through discussion, with the kind help of like-minded colleagues. The Cascadia Seminar is an act of building an intellectual community.

We want to inject The Deep into the lifeblood of our intellectual communities in the Pacific Southwest Canada and Northwest United States. We want more intellectual exchange, and, hey, on a good day, maybe even some good-natured intellectual banter. We want to cultivate a casual setting for the informal mentoring that arises naturally when people find like minds. We want to take more time with each other as we build a cozy shelter from the tosses and turns of rough academic seas.

Good ideas, excellent scholarship, and trustworthy cohorts are not made overnight; rather, both are honed over time, with other people in a supportive group. It’s the everyday practices of working with ideas that we aim to nurture at the Cascadia Seminar – having them, sharing them, honing them, making them stronger and more resilient before they go on to their public lives. Combining this idea-work with our commitments to social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, yes, well, that is Life well-lived. We hope you can join us at the next Cascadia Seminar!

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