History of the Foundation

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Wenner-Gren Symposia

Burg Wartenstein Symposium 12 Group Photo
Burg Wartenstein Symposium #12, "Economics and Anthroplogy: Capital, Saving and Credit in Peasant Societies." Burg Wartenstein Conference Center 1960

Wenner-Gren conferences began in the 1940s as local evening lectures held in the Foundation’s library.  Over the years they evolved into more formal and sophisticated formats, and the Foundation became known for its landmark symposia.

Meetings in the early 1950s were epic, multidisciplinary events with 80 or more participants, requiring years of planning and lasting for several weeks at a time. By the end of the 1950s, however, the Foundation’s leadership decided to shift the focus of its symposia to projects that advanced international communication.  President Paul Fejos believed in the conference medium and envisioned an international center that would bring together the best minds for a more concentrated discussion, in refined (if not lavish) surroundings.

In 1957 Burg Wartenstein castle in Austria was chosen as the new European Conference Center and, after extensive renovations, in August 1958 the castle opened for business with Sol Tax organizing the first Burg Wartenstein symposium on “Current Anthropology.”

Years of experimenting with format and scale led to the emergence of a “Burg Wartenstein model," built on the concept of small, interdisciplinary groups and intense interaction.  Organizers worked hand-in-hand with the Foundation’s president to develop an idea, decide on the list of participants, and create the final program – a true collaboration that typically sp