CU Boulder’s 'Conference On Everything Conceivable' Turns 70

Apr 9, 2018

The 70th Conference on World Affairs takes place this week at the University of Colorado Boulder. Founded in 1948 as a forum on international affairs, it's grown to encompass a broad range of ideas and has hosted a number of notable guests, from Eleanor Roosevelt to the late film critic, journalist and historian Roger Ebert.

"It's really a 'conference on everything conceivable,' which is the term that Roger Ebert assigned," said CWA faculty director John Griffin. "We have sessions on everything from politics to science to the arts, musical performances … really, there's something for everyone. It's a sort of festival of ideas."

The 2018 Conference will feature about 200 panel discussions, forums, roundtables and other activities that are all free and open to the public. Many of the events will be livestreamed.

Interview Highlights

How the CWA has changed over 70 years

John Griffin: Well, I think they used to a train to get here, if that gives you an idea of how long it's been going on. The conference used to be almost entirely organized by CU faculty members. And one of the ways in which it's evolved, in a really valuable way, is to become a real collaboration between the university and the broader community - to recruit all the speakers and design the conference program. So that's really a valuable civic exercise for everyone involved, as well as an inter-generational exercise.

The overarching themes for 2018

Griffin: This year we have three themes: One is "People on the Planet;" another is "The Future of Food;" and the third is "Leadership in the Words of Women." We'll have about seven or eight sessions associated with each one of those core themes. So even though it's a real festival ideas, with something on almost any topic, we do have these themes which allow people to go into more depth with these topics.

Film critic Roger Ebert's involvement and how it's continued after his death

Griffin: Ebert attended the conference for more than three decades and the conference in some ways is a reflection of his personality, in the sense that ... while his core expertise was on films, he had a lot of other interests. Another thing that makes us unique is that we ask our speakers to appear on multiple panels over multiple days - so Roger might (have been) on panels that had nothing to do with film. But he had wide-ranging interests, so he really embraced the spirit of the conference to allow him to explore his other passions.