The history of the Wenner-Gren Foundation has not been one of steady or untroubled progress, but it is one inextricably linked to the history of anthropology worldwide. As the only funding agency that has always defined its mission as embracing all branches of anthropology and the entire international community of anthropologists, it has had a unique symbiosis with the discipline. It has also always sought to maintain a flexibility that could respond to the needs of the field as these changed over the years, while never wavering in its commitment to the vision of a multidisciplinaryk, comparative, international anthropology.
Summaries of the Foundation’s funding programs and their impact on the field of Anthropology were published in three "anniversary editions" of its annual report.
- In the Tenth Anniversary report, published in 1951, Alfred L. Kroeber offered an appraisal of the Foundation's achievements.
- The Twentieth Anniversary report (published in 1961) included three statements on "The Wenner-Gren Foundation and Anthropology" from eminent anthropologists in the major areas of specialization: Raymond Firth writing on ethnology, Emil W. Haury on archaeology, and Adolph H. Schultz on physical anthropology.
- On the occasion of its 50th Anniversary in 1991, the Foundation asked six distiguished scholars -- two from each area, as was appropriate given the growth and diversification of the field since 1961-- to reflect upon the previous fifty years and Wenner-Gren's role in the major sub-disciplines of anthropology. Each was invited to approach the task in any way he or she chose. The contributors were: F. Clark Howell, Palaeoanthropology; Emőke Szathmary, Biological Anthropology; Gordon Willey, New World Archaeology; Patty Jo Watson, Archaeology; Elizabeth Florence Colson, Social-Cultural Anthropology; Fredrik Barth, Social-Cultural Anthropology.
Wenner-Gren today sees its role as that of a catalyst for high-quality, innovative anthropological research worldwide. The Foundation works with an Advisory Council comprised of seven senior international Anthropologists and a team of 60 anthropological consultants to develop programs designed to move the field forward and insure that the highest quality and most innovative research is funded.
The modern Foundation has a variety of grant programs that support individual research, collaborative research, training, and conferences/workshops as well as the preservation of anthropological archives. The Foundation also continues to host International Symposia that provide the opportunity for scholars to come together in a congenial environment to discuss and debate topical issues in anthropology. These symposia are published as special issues of the Foundation’s journal, Current Anthropology, which is one of the leading international journals publishing articles across the broad field of anthropology.
excerpt from the 50th Anniversary Annual Report's "President's Report" by Sydel Silverman