The Symposia are based on a format that was developed and refined at Burg Wartenstein, the Foundation's European conference center from 1958 to 1980. Today's meetings continue the Burg Wartenstein model and are held at a variety of sites in the U.S. and abroad.
Symposia topics are either initiated by the Foundation or selected from submitted proposals on the basis of the importance and timeliness of the topic, the promise of meaningful exchange among scholars representing diverse perspectives and fields, and the potential for opening up new approaches to significant problems. Symposia are administered and fully supported (both financially and logistically) by the Foundation.
Wenner-Gren International Symposia have resulted in a number of landmark volumes, including "Man's Role in Changing the Face of the Earth" (1956); "Background to Evolution in Africa" (1967); "Cloth and Human Experience" (1989); and "Tools, Language, and Cognition in Human Evolution" (1993).
Between 2002 and 2010, twelve symposia were published in The Wenner-Gren International Symposium Series (Berg Publishers). From 2010 onward, symposia publications will appear as supplementary issues of Current Anthropology and are available as open access volumes on the journal's website. Academic publication is changing rapidly and the Foundation believes that Wenner-Gren symposia publications reach a wider audience and have a greater impact in journal format. Publication in Current Anthropology has the added advantage of electronic access and downloads, and continued availability, as well as distribution through various programs such as CENI (the Chicago Emerging Nations Initiative), HINARI, AGORA, and OARE, which provide free (or low-cost) access in many areas of the developing world.
During her tenure as President of the Foundation (1986-1999), Sydel Silverman documented the International Symposia and published a detailed ethnographic study “The Beast on the Table: Conferencing with Anthropologists” which offers a distinct perspective on this signature program. A more detailed overview of this program and its past meetings can be found in this website's History Section and a cumulative list of previous symposia is available here.