History of the Foundation

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Wenner-Gren Symposia in the Early 1950s

International Symposium on Anthropology presentation
"International Symposium on Anthropology," New York 1952. Faces Visible, left to right: Floyd Lounsbury, Irven Rouse, Carlos Monge, Jose Cruxent, William Caudill, and Sherwood Washburn.

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. The first of these was “International Symposium on Anthropology,” a comprehensive stock-taking of the discipline, held in 1952 under the direction of A.L. Kroeber.  Eighty-one scholars from around the world met in New York for two weeks in June to inventory anthropology at a pivotal moment of expansion.  The results of this meeting were published in two influential volumes, "Anthropology Today" (Kroeber 1953) and "An Appraisal of Anthropology Today" (Tax 1953).

Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth” followed in 1955.  An ambitious project noted for its historic scope and innovative, multi-disciplinary approach, the conference again employed a large-scale international format.  The conference and volume of the same name (Thomas 1956) are widely recognized as having systematized the emerging field of ecological studies.

Besides holding two ground-breaking conferences, the Wenner-Gren Foundation also sought out opportunities for collaborations with other organizations, sometimes sponsoring larger, public gatherings -- such as The Neanderthal Centenary, held in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1956 --  to promote anthropology to wider audiences and open the Foundation to new possibilities for advancing the discipline.

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